I. The Apprehension.
A few weeks ago, I was walking out of Mauer Park listening to music loud on my Headphones. I walked over to the tram station across from the park; I was waiting there, deep in thought when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a young male and a young female—both mid-twenties, both German, both dressed in shorts and light summer shirts. I thought they were tourists asking for directions, but as I looked down to turn off my music to help them, I saw the young guy was holding out a police badge. The male said they had watched me buy marijuana from one of the African dealers in the park, the female stated that the activity was illegal.
I was honest and forthcoming with everything because I felt if I lied about it, it meant what I had done was somehow wrong; I gave them my identification card and the grass and they started filling out a police report at the tram station. While they were taking my information, the male police officer asked me to go back in the park with them to officially attest that the man had sold me drugs. He said this to me four times: “If you go back into the park with us and point out the kid who sold to you and attest that he did this, we will make your own issues in this case much lighter—we could reduce the sentence or make it go away.” Each time, I declined and finally the fourth time I told the male police officer: “Look, I am totally working with you now; I’m giving you all of my information. But I don’t get involved in other people’s lives like that—it’s really none of my business.”
Talking to these two cops was interesting because while the female police officer was staying objective, saying “We are stopping you because it is illegal to buy marijuana in Germany” (I really respected the objectivity and tone in her execution); the male police officer was more concerned with persuading me to turn on the dealer, all the while being borderline nasty to me, making personal comments that I was most likely a junky because I smoked pot; I didn’t like being judged like that, nor did I like his tactic– to be asked by the police officer if I wanted to make MY life a little easier by making the life of this African guy harder—it’s something that I still can’t mentally deal with.
II. Ministry in Park.
You see, I personally knew the African dealer; I knew his name, I knew his background; I knew that he was a religious Muslim who goes to Mosque a few times a day; I knew he had been trained to sell clothes in Africa, and I knew that he would rather be doing anything in the world other than to be selling weed.
I wasn’t in the park merely on the grounds to procure weed; I was there for the ministry I had started in the park about two years before, when all of this LAGeSo stuff started happening in Berlin. (I think Ministry sounds condescending, but it is a good term to describe what I do there.) While many other Berliners set their focus on protecting the asylum homes that Berlin was threatening to close, I started ministering to the African teenage refugees who were ending up in the park selling drugs, because there was nothing else for them to do—no real integration initiatives from the city, no working papers, no other possibilities.
I go there and ask them questions about themselves; I ask about their families and their living situations; I try to motivate them to not give up on looking for other possibilities; I bring them books and encourage them to keep reading; I try to connect them with other young people of their age by helping them get rooms in the WGs with college students so that their youth doesn’t get lost in the situation, which both their home country and the German government has thrown them into; I got some of the boys to go to Sweden and Denmark, where they are encouraged to attend University and study. Overall, I try to show them love and support that they are missing and is greatly needed for their development and what we all need as human beings.
I’ve met few people who are as resilient as these African and Moroccan boys, who speak up to five languages easily, a high percent of whom have learned a proper trade in their country, which they are forbidden to practice in Germany; trades which was passed down at least one generation before they left Africa or are sent here by their parents in hopes of a better life. They come here alone, sometimes as young as 15 years and are forced to survive without a family structure. Of course, some of the kids have issues with criminality and hard drugs, which can potentially happen to all kinds of teenagers, but I felt like the African teenagers are getting judged much more strictly for it.
These boys are part of the world’s future and the western culture clamps down and criminalized them at an early age, cutting them off at the knees; if you have teenage children or know a teenager personally, take a moment and think about them and imagine if they were forced into this position. They don’t think it’s cool, they don’t enjoy doing it, they don’t like being hassled and physically attacked by the police—if there was anything else they could do to get by, they would be doing that. I was speaking recently to a young guy from Gambia, he pointed out that when they sell drugs, they try to stop it and get out of the park, if they succeed in doing this, they never come back to the parks because this place doesn’t have a good connotation to them.
It’s a frustration that many of us westerners fortunately will never know: They come to Europe not to steal from us or cause problems, but in an attempt to live a full, adult life that isn’t possible where they are from; Here, no one is willing to sponsor them with jobs, not do they have the papers to work, even though they really want to. On the average, an African refugee gets 250 euros per month—total. If they try to leave Germany to go someplace else, like Scandinavia, where they would have the opportunity to study and receive a proper education, they often get sent back to Germany or, more specifically, Dessau because that was their initial point of asylum inside Europe. 250 euros per month—that is what the German government expects a grown human being to live on– that’s impossible! And the way that the government treats them is quite reminiscent of the Separate but Equal laws that were once in place in the Southern half of the United States.
Of course, such measures are used to make the refuges ‘want to go back’ to their home countries at a certain point. A lot of them really want to (they miss their families) but it’s not possible either because of the dire circumstances there, which we don’t have in Europe. In the meantime, such a low monetary sum and no possibility to work or study, or improve their life situations on their own is simply an inhuman way to live. Then, on top of this all, they get labeled as being ‘bad’ people or criminal because they are left with no choice but to sell marijuana—it’s an insult to their injury.
III. Considering My Guilt.
The definition of criminal is someone who does something morally wrong. While what I did was illegal, I don’t think it was morally wrong. After my experience with the police, I spent the whole night awake– I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t suffering from insomnia out of guilt for buying or for being caught but rather because it was utterly impossible for me to feel guilty. Further, I realized that I was utterly sick of feeling bad that I smoke pot. It’s not about being in trouble; it’s about this dance between your intuition and status quo. When you are forced to lie to keep the peace, it messes with your inner compass and the damage then often spreads like a virus through your entire life. While I wanted with all my heart to acquiesce to this, I couldn’t make my mind conform to being ok with being criminalized by a stupid, stupid law.
It’s an interesting question if you remove the controlled substance from this equation and look at the metaphor and how sin is involved: I was being very honest from my side, while they were already being dishonest in the way that they had caught me and trying to pressure me with the law to do something really negative against another human being for my benefit. It’s such an interesting question about honesty/dishonesty, right/wrong, and more than anything about the definition of what is criminal and what is legal. I’m not trying to justify what I did, but looking at it very purely, the whole situation was just ridiculous!
IV. Drug Policy.
That’s what really changed me in this experience. I feel like in our attempt to exist in society, there’s a lot of lying a deceit we are forced to commit and submit ourselves to in order to get by; that law is too often used to manipulate people; and connotations like criminal and illegal have too much sway in defining a person’s future. Yes, I was forced to do something against the law because marijuana is wrongly illegalized—but I will not let this define who I am. ‚Criminality‘ is too easily disbursed—like how the African man in the park is a criminal (i.e. bad person) because he sells marijuana out of the lack of any kind of alternative, while in his personal life—in his own, free time—he’s leading a much more honest and holy life than most of the Germans judging him.
It’s difficult to really talk openly about drug politics because our society as a whole has been fed so much wrong information—people rely too much on statistics with unclear sources and it’s never clear the total amount of people considered in terms of the percentage, not to mention the false information, like that marijuana is a gateway drug (which it truly and dearly is not); it’s overwhelming to try fighting against it all and get people to talk about it. I have even been quoted statistics from a judge from the Regional Court of Brandenburg, which say that a ‘high percentage’ of the African refugees selling in the park are connected to dangerous criminals involved with hard drug trade; while I have seen a number of young men who work in Görlitzer Park slide into this degree of criminality, my personal experience has shown me that with only a small percentage it’s true. There are so many aspects of this problem—and discussion of this problem– that are just really difficult to approach.
Some people say ‘all drugs should be legalized’—I don’t agree with that; I don’t take hard drugs, I don’t want anyone I know around them, and I see the difference in levels of violence between Görlitzer Park (where harder drugs are also sold) and Mauer Park (where they are not, and where actually any sort of regular violence there really comes from the police when they raid the park—not from the marijuana dealers). I think that marijuana should be legalized—or at least that amounts less than five grams should be. Marijuana shouldn’t be grouped with hard drugs like cocaine, meth and heroine—especially if alcohol isn’t; and while I’ll admit that there is a tendency for some people to become affected by smoking too much pot, I think such addiction is similar to alcoholism. But it’s funny—while I’ve lost a good number of people dear to me to alcohol, I’ve never lost a single person due to their addiction to pot.
I started reading about the history of marijuana, why it became an illegal substance—it’s inevitably clear that the illegality of marijuana and hemp are mainly in place for corporate and tax reasons—not because it’s necessarily dangerous. Did you know that in the USA, marijuana became illegal at the exact same time that prohibition ended, and miraculously, the prohibition officers were able to switch to pot enforcement right at the moment they risked unemployment because their prohibition jobs had become obsolete? Did you also know that the petroleum companies played a major role in the illegalization of hemp as a material so that consumers would have no other choice than to buy petroleum-based products? The pharmaceutical companies also want pot to be illegal, by the way, so that we are forced to buy man-made drugs, to the deficit of our physical health. Please take a moment and ask yourself—why is marijuana illegal, while alcohol is not? It is 100% a stupid law!
The sale of alcohol brings in a lot of tax money, but legal marijuana sales would, too—the estimated annual revenue for marijuana sales on the black market in Germany is set at 1-2 BILLION euros per year. They say that if the sale was legalized, the annual revenue would still be around 1 billion euros per year in Germany. Imagine what kind of impact this tax money would have on Germany, and especially Berlin. Unfortunately, though, the downside of marijuana being legalized is that the African refugees who are forced to sell it to make a living would be out of a job, unless this black market remains—that’s the downfall. It’s a really complicated question and there are no easy answers.
V. Why I Smoke.
I decided I was sick and tired of feeling ashamed or that I have to hide that I smoke pot and I no longer want to hide it. I honestly don’t understand the need to hide it; yes, purchasing it is illegal, but I feel that I am being penalized for what I feel is a healthy choice. I no longer wish to let my reputation be criminalized by it.
I feel that for me, choosing marijuana over pharmaceutical painkillers or alcohol is a far healthier life choice. I am tired of people thinking that because I moderately consume marijuana instead of alcohol or ibuprofen, that I am some kind of fiend. I’m not writing this to make excuses for myself, but rather to give another picture of what many people who moderately consume marijuana are like. I’m not a druggie, I’m an intellectual and I work my ass off to make a sustenance; I have my shit together: I pay my GEZ, I’ve had uninterrupted health-insured by the Barmer for over a decade, I have an BVG ‚Umwelt‘ card, I go to church regularly, I eat healthy, I make sacrifices to make my children’s lives better. I am definitely not an idiot nor a criminal nor a degenerate and I refuse to let myself be conceived as one because I smoke pot.
I feel I should be trusted to make my own decisions as to what’s healthiest for my body, especially since choosing marijuana is honestly the healthier choice– me cutting down on alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and even coffee and instead opting for moderate grass consumption has done nothing but improve my life. One reason I consume marijuana is that have an ovarian condition, which puts me often in excruciating pain—especially during my monthly cycle. Over the last three years, I have been in need of painkillers almost daily. Smoking marijuana for me often means being able to work despite the daily excruciating pain. Ibuprofen can only be taken in short cycles because it starts to ruin your stomach lining and I think it’s utterly bonkers to choose harder prescription over marijuana, just because it’s legal because it’s dangerous and highly addictive to take it longer than a short cycle. I don’t buy medical marijuana because I cannot afford it— even when prescribed by a doctor, it is still considered an elective medicine—much like a lot of the other medicine I regularly need to take (which If I didn’t take, I could at times possibly bleed to death).
I think one of the biggest reasons I refuse to let myself be criminalized for my grass consumption is that I cannot even begin to understand why alcohol is legal and marijuana is not. I’m sick of how people are pushed to drinking alcohol socially just because it’s legal, and from my experience, I find alcohol to be much more dangerous that grass. Did you know for the average person over 30 it can take up to THREE DAYS for a night of drinking to clear the system, including all of the physical symptoms of withdrawal that comes with it? I have a drink or two sometimes in social situations, but I really control my alcohol consumption because I feel that alcohol consumption works against me functioning in life like I need to; I’m susceptible to hangovers after drinking even just a little and it makes me crazy because I want my brain and myself to function! Further, Alcohol permanently affects your brain in a very negative way that moderate marijuana consumption definitely does not.
VI. German Legal System / Legalization.
“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” –Alexander Pope
After this experience of being criminalized by the police, I’ve decided that the only way I can make sense of my life is to continue to autonomously think for myself. I’ve always had a rather keen understanding of how laws are made and how society sees ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ and ‘right’ from ‘wrong’. The thing is—while order in society is key and we therefore need to reach a common consensus that we follow the law in order to maintain common order, and that the laws have to generalize people so that things seem ‘fair’—laws are quite often unfair; we are expected to act like the legal system is divine and almighty, but it’s not—it’s a man-made system, and with everything else man-made it’s understandable that there should be flaws. This constant expectation that we should act like the law is something holy makes me so tired, because its not. I think I would have much more respect for the law if there was more focus on forgiveness.
I try my best to follow the law in respect for the order that it promises to maintain but I refuse to view the police as demigods I should revere, when they are only human themselves and when a major part of my apprehension involved the deceit of them pretending to be someone else. Not cool. For the life of me, I can’t understand why buying ten euros of weed is illegal. Also, why is it when a white person is caught with less than 5 grams of weed, the law considers it something for personal consumption, while if an African is caught with even 1 gram, it’s considered an amount that is meant for sale. (You may not see that last item in the statistics, but it is often unfortunately the case).
There have been many moments in history where the law has felt very supreme, but it’s not. In ancient times, it was totally legal to kill Christians and in the Third Reich, it was legal to kill Jewish people, and it used to be legal to torture and kill Blacks in the south of the United States. Homosexuality was once punishable by jail time, and the ‘criminalization’ of it would ruin one’s life. I think it’s interesting how in some places there are still obsolete laws on the book, which the authorities deem ok to ignore—for instance, in Louisiana, it is still technically illegal for a woman to own land, and in Pennsylvania, more than seven women living in the same household is legally considered a brothel. It’s crazy how law can have such an impact on a person’s life, sometimes and quite often ruining it forever, while the authorities hold the right to skim and choose which ones they deem viable and which ones not. (Alcohol used to be illegal, too, by the way, and I think it’s atrocious how public drunkenness is so humbly accepted.)
We Westerners have grown up with so much prosperity that every day is expected to be better than the next. It’s always been easier for us to get by and a lot of us don’t see what non-Westerners have to go through, despite it going on right in front of our faces (and maybe a lot of us just don’t wish to see it). Westerners are raised to speak our minds freely, but we never do. I see how it IS starting to change in the moment but more people need to stand up! We have to stand up and say when something is wrong or right! Drug policy in terms of marijuana needs to be changed post haste and moderate marijuana consumption needs to be decriminalized– not just with the laws but also with the public perception of it.
Images courtesy of Ann Schomburg.