The German Federal Narcotics Act defines schedules of narcotic substances, the framework and procedure for legal turnover and prescription of narcotics, criminal and administrative liability, and alternative measures for drug-dependent offenders. Use of drugs is not mentioned as an offence. Unauthorised possession of drugs is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison. However, the law affords various possibilities other than prosecution when only small quantities of narcotic drugs for personal use are involved. Important criteria on which such decisions are based are the amount and type of the drugs involved, the involvement of others, the personal history of the offender and whether or not public interest would be served by prosecution. Most of the Länder have defined values for ‘small amounts’ of cannabis and a few have established amounts for heroin, cocaine, amphetamine and MDMA/ecstasy; for methamphetamine, a federal ruling limits a ‘non-small’ amount to 5 g of the active substance. When a sentence is imposed, the principle of ‘treatment instead of punishment’ still allows — under certain circumstances — a postponement or remission of the punishment if the offender enters treatment.
The illicit supply, cultivation and manufacture of narcotic drugs carry penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment. The penalty range increases to 1-, 2- or 5-15 years in defined aggravating circumstances, which include factors such as larger quantities of narcotic drugs, supplying or involving minors, gang membership and carrying weapons.
Until recently, new psychoactive substances (NPS) were controlled by their introduction into Schedules I to III of the German Federal Narcotics Act. However, the amendment procedure was deemed too lengthy. Therefore, from November 2016, a new law has prohibited supply-related actions involving NPS that belong to groups of amphetamine-type stimulants, including cathinones and synthetic cannabinoids; these offences are punishable by up to three years in prison or up to 10 years’ imprisonment in certain aggravating circumstances.
In 2011, cannabis was transferred from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Narcotics Act, which, for the first time, enabled cannabis-containing proprietary medicinal products to be manufactured and prescribed, following clinical testing and licensing by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. In March 2017, the Cannabis as Medicine Act came into force, regulating prescription, financing, domestic production and import of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals, including herbal cannabis.
Drug law offence (DLO) data are the foundation for monitoring drug-related crime and are also a measure of law enforcement activity and drug market dynamics; they may be used to inform policies on the implementation of drug laws and to improve strategies.
In Germany, a slight rise in the level of DLOs has been reported since 2013, including those relating to consumption and possession. Drug use-related offences committed against the Narcotics Act (unauthorised possession, purchase and distribution of narcotic substances) dominate the DLOs, and more than half of these offences are related to cannabis, followed by amphetamines.