Hans Theiss: IMAGO / HR Schulz | Cannabis: IMAGO / Panthermedia
All about legalizing cannabis
In the recent uprising against the legalization of cannabis, the CSU is something like the Bavarian elite unit of the Union. Nowhere else are politicians more opposed to a reform of German drug policy. The last two federal drug commissioners – both proponents of the cannabis ban – came from the CSU. And party leader Markus Söder said on the subject: “We as the CSU are strictly against the release of cannabis.”
It was therefore surprising when Munich’s CSU city councilor and cardiologist Hans Theiss publicly represented the opposite last week. In a Facebook post, he called for legalizing cannabis. He wrote: “The schizophrenic time should be over, when beer tent speakers summoned the village’s antisocial, who smoked grass, and thousands of tent visitors with full beer mugs in their hands should mock.”
We would really like to get to know this man who is against the attitude of pretty much everyone who has influence in his party. And we would like to know why most people in the CSU are still so vehemently against the legalization of cannabis.
VICE: Mr. Theiss, how is a CSU politician going to want to legalize cannabis?
Hans Theiss: The question has preoccupied me for years because I have a political but also a medical view of it. And it has become urgent this year because the traffic light in Berlin will now change the legal situation and has advocated for a legalization. That’s why I think it’s the right time to express myself.
What legalization arguments convinced you in particular?
On the one hand, I want equal treatment. From a medical perspective, I see no significant differences between alcohol and cannabis that suggest allowing one and banning the other. Of course, some mechanisms of action and side effects are different. But overall, both drugs play in the same league for me. There are cannabis advocates who themselves dispute this, saying that cannabis is not as bad as alcohol. But I would consider it pretty much the same, and then it would be logical to treat it the same. As a doctor, I would warn against both, but also place it within the discretion of adults to ingest.
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There is one big difference, as you mentioned in your Facebook post: about 60,000 people die each year in Germany from the effects of alcohol consumption, and about 100,000 from tobacco. There are no known deaths due to cannabis.
I would not confirm that. I am not a toxicologist or medical cannabis expert as my background is in cardiology. Nevertheless, of course, I informed myself: Even if I did not find any clear figures, I would be very surprised if no one had ever died of hashish, for example, by an accident or massive intoxication. The fact that there are these statistical differences may, on the one hand, be due to the number of consumers, but also to the corresponding registration. If you can officially collect the numbers from consumers after legalization, compare them.
What conditions do you want to set for legalization?
You should definitely accompany them scientifically. One has to observe if there can be massive poisonings that one might not see coming. Then you must reserve the right to regulate against it. And there should be education campaigns in schools. Young people should not get the impression that it is legal now, so bad it can not be. Anyone over the age of 18 should know this for themselves. But I would escalate awareness campaigns, and the same goes for alcohol.
Have you ever thought differently about the subject?
I’ve seen it like this for a long time and did not really have a turning point where I would have completely thought about. It was just never so present in the political discussion that I would have had to express myself officially.
Do you stand alone with this attitude in your party?
So far, I do not think many have given any official statements. At least not many officials and elected officials. I’m not sure if I’m the first one at all. At the grassroots level, this will certainly be discussed in a more differentiated way. At the state parliamentary level or even at the ministerial level, the position should be fairly unanimous at the moment.
And that attitude is that we are against legalizing cannabis?
Exactly. It is still unknown whether this position will continue. At the base, it is seen in such and such a way. There are some who support the cannabis ban. But I also know a whole bunch of people who see things the same way as me, without being able to name any numbers.
Do Bavarians have a special relationship with cannabis?
In principle, Bavarians already follow a relatively strong rule of law policy and investigate things classified as illegal, perhaps a little more consistently, than is the case in other federal states. I can not imagine that the Bavarian people as such would have a different relationship to cannabis than other federal states, for better or worse.
What arguments against legalization can you also gain from?
To me, it is still unclear whether young people will see legalization as trivialization. As I said: I look just as critically at alcohol consumption among young people. The interesting question, however, becomes whether a new legal classification of cannabis will trigger a run on the drug among young people, or whether they may have already used it and the numbers remain the same. This is the sore point for me. However, I am skeptical about whether cannabis can be an entry into hard drugs because of the drug itself or more because it is illegal, as it has been repeatedly claimed.
The gateway drug thesis is scientifically disproven.
I mean, cannabis is as much a gateway drug as alcohol. But I also think it’s meant to be illegal. A person who needs to obtain a drug illegally may also have easier access to other illegal drugs. But I’m also curious to see if there is data pointing in a different direction. You know when you’ve legalized it. If cannabis was legally available in Germany for two or three years, look at diseases and deaths with other drugs. If they remain the same, the gateway drug thesis should really be disproved in reality. If something has changed, you will need to look at how to handle it. But that can not be predicted.
Has your Facebook post caused a stir in CSU, and has Markus Söder already complained to you?
He did not get in touch with me. So far I have not heard any tremors. Of course, I was charged, sometimes with a certain smile.
What could be used to convince legalization skeptics in your party?
I look forward to the bill for the fall. It is important whether you release everything or continue in stages and allow different strengths of cannabis products. The second point is what training campaigns are planned and what the scientific support looks like. You should also set a time – for example after three years – where you evaluate it all and decide if you want to implement it permanently. When the emergency rooms go wrong – which I do not believe, but I do not know – you have to wonder if it was the right move.
If one looks at legalization as a first step, as a test phase, I could imagine that one or the other in the CSU would say: OK, let’s take a look at it. Nevertheless, there will be hardliners who say never, never and not a millimeter. But there are definitely some who get torn to pieces and say: I do not think cannabis is good, but maybe the reality is not as bad as feared.
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