Well, this is a bargain – only €14 for a packet of cannabis buds about the size of a pack of cards. That’s enough to bake a cake that will make you feel nice and relaxed, says Benno, the shopkeeper. Lots of people, ahem, your age, he says, find it helps them with aches and pains.
I try not to look insulted and he throws in a recipe for hash cakes. That will be more fun than stollen and lebkuchen for the guests at my Christmas party.
Of course, this is only a taster pack – the dregs that are left at the bottom of a jar of buds, offered at a discount through an app.
I must admit I was apprehensive when I went to collect it. Benno’s shop is in a side street off Leipzig’s Eisenbahnstraße – Railway Street. It’s reputedly the most dangerous street in Germany. Warning signs inform me that the local bye-law forbids the carrying of weapons, whether they are guns or knives. Police patrol regularly to enforce the ban. Here they come now…
It’s noisy and crowded, with large families shopping in the Syrian, Lebanese and Turkish supermarkets. The coffee shops are filled with old men playing cards and backgammon. The young men are hanging around on the street corners, their hoods up to keep out the cold howling wind. What are they selling, I wonder?
The shop is on a quiet side street, closed to traffic and designated as a play area, with a hopscotch court and planters filled with shrubs. No one is playing there, but that probably has more to do with the weather than the overall air of menace.
In the shop, Benno is talking his customers through the different varieties of cannabis on offer. This one tastes fruity and gives you a buzz, good for daytime use. If you want something more relaxing for the evening, try this one.
I can’t believe all this is legal – but it is. Well, nearly. The Bundestag has still not passed the proposed new law that will allow anyone to have 55 grams of the stuff about their person for their own use. It will also allow you to join a consumers’ club to grow it and smoke it. Nine pilot projects are planned with Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes. It’s all due to come into force in January 2024, but the new law has still not been signed off.
So… do I need to hide my purchase from the ever-present police patrols? What if they have sniffer dogs? No, no! The other customers reassure me. These are buds without the THC that get you high. They’re medicinal. Disappointed, and feeling a little foolish, I visit one of the cannabis consumers’ clubs that are sprouting up online, ready for when the new law comes in.
First I have to tick a box to say that I am aged over 18. Underage drug use will still not be allowed, even when cannabis is decriminalised. I do not have to do anything at all to actually prove my age. But perhaps they will bring in ID card readers, like the ones they have on cigarette machines.
The website takes me to Suleyman O, based in Frankfurt. He already has a medicinal cannabis company. So I expected he would welcome the new regulations. Not a bit of it! It’s an absolute mess, he says. Typical German mentality – you have a lot of paperwork, bureaucracy. I realise that he is grumpy because the grow-it-yourself clubs and cafes will compete head-on with his own business.
My own club, here in Leipzig, is more upbeat. According to the website its founder, Tobias, plans a growing area and clubhouse with a monthly subscription of just €33. Based next to the university halls of residence, he reckons the club would be financially viable with 20 members.
His website banner defiantly quotes a former governor of the US state of California, one of 24 out of 50 states where cannabis is legal for adult recreational use, who has stated: “It’s not a drug, it’s a leaf”. That quote is from Arnold Schwarzenneger. If the Austrians get it, surely the Germans can, too.