Berlin - Andreas Müller is considered one of Germany's strictest juvenile court judges. He's notorious for not shying away from tough punishments for juvenile criminals. But the 59-year-old also vehemently supports the legalisation of cannabis and recently asked the country's top court to review Germany's ban on the drug. Everyone has a right to buy and smoke cannabis without fear of charges, he says. To Müller, millions of cannabis consumers have been unjustly criminalised in Germany.

Mr. Müller, have you ever smoked weed?

Of course.

When did you smoke a joint for the first time?

When I was 18 years old.

And you just admit that, even though you're a judge?

I assume that most judges and public prosecutors in Germany have smoked pot in their youth. They just don't dare to admit it. By the way, I think that every judge should have smoked pot at some point.

Why is that?

So that they know how cannabis works and have their eyes opened about those who end up before them for cannabis offences.

What do you mean by 'eye opening'?

Cannabis users are unfairly criminalised and stigmatised in this country. And it's not right. It's destroying entire families. This has to finally stop. Everyone should be free to choose their narcotic.

That is why you have asked the German Constitutional Court to review the ban on cannabis.

That's right. As a judge, I not only have the right but also the duty under Article 100 of the [German] constitution to have laws reviewed if I reach the conclusion that they are unconstitutional.

Why is the prohibition of cannabis unconstitutional?

Because it violates the general right of personality, the right of freedom, the principle of equality and the principle of proportionality. It is shooting with cannons at sparrows.

You've already attempted to overturn the ban on cannabis with this strategy. That was almost 20 years ago. You were unsuccessful.

A lot has changed since then. Science has moved on. The majority of parties are in favour of legalising cannabis. And professors are teaching their students that cannabis prohibition is unconstitutional. Half of Germans are against a ban. And worldwide, consumption is allowed in more and more countries. Only Germany is blocking this progress.

Is that so surprising? After all, cannabis has an addictive element.

But it is extraordinarily low.

Still, there are people who end up in hospital because of it.

There's about 3,500 users per year whose main diagnosis is cannabis. With an estimated 4 million users in Germany, that's 0.1 per cent, which is negligible. Of course, there are also problematic users of every drug. Just two glasses of wine a day make a wine lover a problem drinker.

Photo: imago images/Reiner Zensen
Andreas Müller

is a juvenile court judge in Bernau near Berlin. The 59-year-old has a reputation as Germany's toughest youth judge. He has handed down unusual sentences to right-wing radicals and violent young offenders. But in drug policy he prefers tolerance and education. Müller was a longtime friend and colleague of Berlin juvenile court judge Kirsten Heisig, who died in 2010 and initiated the Neukölln Model for the effective prosecution of juvenile offenders. He is a native of Meppen in Lower Saxony, which is close to the border with the Netherlands. He has two adult daughters.

And what about the health risks associated with smoking pot?

The damage caused by cannabis is very low. The World Health Organization just recently recognised cannabis as a medicine and also downgraded it. It's now classified as a slightly dangerous substance, far behind harder drugs and alcohol.

But still.

Chocolate, if you will, is also marginally dangerous.

Cannabis is also permitted as a medicine in Germany.

Only in the last four years. But it took a long time to get it approved. In the end, it was the Federal Administrative Court that decided, not the politicians. They did nothing for decades, forcing AIDS patients and other sick people to the black market.

But isn't cannabis always mentioned as a gateway drug?

When I hear something like that, I get pustules. No scientist anywhere supports this thesis anymore. Anyone who says this in the Bundestag does it maliciously or for purely ideological reasons. It just dumbs people down.

And what about side effects?

The worst side effect of a joint is law enforcement.

I have not yet seen any acts of aggression based on cannabis.

In your submission to the constitutional court, you talk about alcohol, a legal drug, being much more harmful to health than illegal cannabis.

That is demonstrable. The figures speak for themselves: in Germany, around 70,000 people die every year as a result of problematic alcohol consumption. Not a single person worldwide has died from cannabis. An addicted stoner can live to be 100 years old. In this country, everyone is allowed to drink themselves to death, but no one is allowed to get cannabis to smoke. There's something wrong with that. And if alcohol were abolished and all drinkers were instead told, 'you smoke pot now', we could save a lot of people and prevent crime. 

Why would there be fewer crimes?

As a judge, I can see it: alcohol makes the aggressive even more violent. People fight until they can't take it anymore. About every third act of violence is related to alcohol. Smoking pot reduces aggression. I have not yet seen any acts of violence based on cannabis.

You call for a free choice of addictive substance. Wouldn't it be better to ban all intoxicants?

That doesn't work, as shown by alcohol prohibition in America. Illegal markets would emerge. And no one knows what's in the alcohol. I don't want the legislature to ban beer and wine and only allow non-alcoholic beer to be served at Oktoberfest. But I would like people who fill up there to accept that there are also people who prefer to get drunk on other intoxicating substances.

What do I face if I am caught with a joint in my pocket?

An investigation will be launched against you. You will be questioned as a suspect, will most likely end up on the narcotics register and, if you are unlucky, you will first be arrested and treated like a felon. Many of the cases are later dropped, but it varies from state to state. I know of cases where people in Bavaria were convicted for 0.1 grams.

And what's it like in Berlin and Brandenburg?

If you are caught with up to 10 or even 15 grams in Berlin, the case is usually dropped. But Brandenburg is different. Here, the limit is six grams. And as a repeat offender, the accused is guaranteed to end up in court.

That means that if convicted, they would have a criminal record.

That's how it is. For young people who want to study, then maybe train young people, it's devastating for another reason: they're not allowed to teach for five years. And if you conceal that from your employer, that's grounds for dismissal. So that's tantamount to a professional ban for possessing and handling cannabis. That's absurd.

But cannabis is allowed for personal use.

That's a fairy tale. Possession of cannabis is not free. If you are caught with only a minimal amount, you will already be under investigation.

This sounds like a lot of work for police and the justice system.

It's mostly nonsensical work that more and more police officers, as well as judges and prosecutors, don't want to do. In 2019, there were more than 180,000 preliminary proceedings against cannabis users nationwide, for example because police officers found a joint or observed a user buying a gram of cannabis. These cleared crimes are good for statistics, but nothing more. Police officers spend millions of hours tracking down cannabis users. And for child pornography or other real crimes, investigators often take years to bring the case to court.

So a lot of resources are wasted that are then not available to solve serious crimes?

Of course. These resources should be used wisely.

But shouldn't children and young people be protected from drugs, including cannabis?

Absolutely. But you can't ban millions of people from smoking cannabis just because young people are at risk. I'm not saying that young people should smoke pot. They do it despite the ban. There of course has to be a red line on legalisation. For example, cannabis should only be given to those over 18. We need to protect youth and keep an eye on the kids who smoke too much pot. And of course, adults who supply cannabis to 14-year-olds should face criminal charges.

Wouldn't legalisation harm efforts to protect minors?

I've been a juvenile court judge for 25 years. And if anyone knows anything about it, it's me. We don't have a system to protect the youth. Kids smoke pot in spite of the existing laws, walk around and buy pot that has been cut with other adulterants. That would happen less often if we regulated the use of cannabis. We would also be able to reach young people much earlier. Parents could get sensible information and even, as I urge, call the juvenile court judge. They could ask him to take a look at their son and assess whether he really has a problem with smoking pot or whether it's just society that has a problem with him. That's how Portugal does it, for example.

Other countries are much further along with legalisation than Germany.

Several states in the US have already legalised cannabis. There is now even a vice president who has been a staunch advocate of cannabis legalisation for years. The House of Representatives approved it a few weeks ago. The first states are starting to rehabilitate. California, for example, is eliminating cannabis-related criminal convictions. There are more and more states that allow cannabis. And Germany continues to act as if nothing were wrong. But the reality here is different: people smoke pot on every corner. Businessmen smoke a joint just as much as civil servants. Half the student body smokes pot. These are the leaders of tomorrow.

Two problems, one stone

On the other hand, cannabis isn't just illegal in Germany.

That's true, there's still a lot to do internationally. The war on drugs has failed worldwide, costing millions of victims - and there are new ones every day.

Let's say cannabis use is allowed here. Won't even more people roll themselves a joint?

First, it wouldn't be bad, and second, it won't happen. Whether cannabis is punishable or not is completely irrelevant to its acceptance, according to scientific findings. But you can solve a lot of problems if cannabis is legalised.

What problems do you mean?

Just think of Görlitzer Park and how often the police march through there to catch dealers. It would be very easy to make the park harmless and attractive for walkers again.

How?

By opening official cannabis stores in the neighbourhood. The market in Görli would collapse and there would be no more adulterated weed. Surely some dealers who stay in the park would sell hard drugs. But the police would then also have justification to move against them. And the whole thing would also save about €4 billion a year, which is the public cost of prohibition. They could use that to easily rebuild the cultural scene that was destroyed by Corona.

And everyone would then be allowed to set up a plantation?

Of course not. The cannabis control law introduced by the Greens in the Bundestag stipulates that each person may have three plants for personal use. I think that's sensible, and it would also relieve the burden on health insurers, who already spend an estimated €100 million each year on cannabis as medicine.

And what about driving?

Anyone who drives stoned should have their driver's licence revoked. I would take that away, too. Unfortunately, there are people in the German stoner community who think they can get behind the wheel stoned. Driving under the influence of cannabis is the same as driving under the influence of alcohol. It has to be fair, but currently it isn't.

Why not?

If someone drank on Saturday and admits it during a traffic stop on Monday, nothing happens. But if I tell the officer that I sat in front of the TV and smoked pot on Saturday night, and that I occasionally like to do that, then my driving licence is gone.

The public prosecutor's office in Frankfurt (Oder) recently filed a case against you because of a conflict of interest. Why is that?

She says it's not because I have suspended cannabis cases until the constitutional court has made its ruling, but because I have publicly advocated in favour of legalisation for years, through interviews and as an author. She also believes that my history could influence me. But nobody is accusing me of official misconduct. Prosecutors have never appealed one of my cannabis rulings over all these years.

And what happened to their motion to recuse?

It was rejected only a few days ago by the initial court, because judges are also afforded the freedom of opinion. But if the prosecutor's office appeals and the motion goes through, those who publicly speak in favour of legalisation will logically never be allowed to rule as judges in cannabis cases. At least, that's how the prosecutor's office sees it.

Photo: Eric Richard
Görlitzer Park in April.

Do you have an example?

Brandenburg CDU state parliamentarian Julian Brüning, for example. He is chairman of the Junge Union [association of young CDU members] in Brandenburg and recently called for the legalisation of cannabis - in other words, controlled cultivation and controlled dispensation in coffee shops like in the Netherlands. That would create jobs. Should he study the law, he would have a problem.

Are you satisfied that the conflict of interest motion was rejected?

Of course, as long as the ruling stands. Judges must be allowed to speak their minds. They shouldn't be forbidden from speaking out when it comes to questioning the meaning of laws. We are there to have laws reviewed as well.

When are you actually expecting a decision from the constitutional court?

It's hard to say. The last time it took almost a year and a half.

Are your colleagues supportive?

Lots of my colleagues are now in favour of legalising cannabis. And many prosecutors also tell me that they think prohibition is pointless. There are more and more police officers who no longer want to prosecute cannabis users.

Why have you actually been fighting so vehemently for the legalisation of cannabis for years?

Because millions of people are being unjustly criminalised. And my own family history also plays a role.

What does your family have to do with it?

My father drank himself to death when I was 11. And my brother was the victim of a misguided drug policy.

What happened?

My brother smuggled large quantities of cannabis from the Netherlands across the border. He got four years in jail as a youngster in the 1970s. Fifteen kilometers further, in Holland, he would only have been given community service for that. Jail broke my brother and threw him off track. Two weeks after the death of my alcoholic father, when I was in the fifth grade, my geography teacher slapped me in the face and told me that I was the brother of the town's famous stoner. From then on, I knew what stigmatisation meant: guilt by association. That shaped my life and my actions.

You became a judge, what happened to your brother?

My brother became addicted to heroin at the age of 30, but not because he had smoked pot before. The jail they put him in at a young age messed him up psychologically. He was in the methadone program for a long time. He died 7 years ago at 57.

You have children of your own. What freedom do you give them?

My daughters are 22 and 30 years old. And if they want to smoke pot, they should be allowed to smoke pot and not be criminalised. I also want to be allowed to smoke pot. I am a grown man, I work a lot, I pay taxes and I am an upstanding citizen. The state shouldn't tell me what drugs I can take. Whether I drink a bottle of wine with my wife in the evening or smoke cannabis is entirely my own, constitutionally protected business.