Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Germany's youngsters going to pot

DPA , HAMBURG

Teenagers in Germany are smoking cannabis in alarming numbers, prompting health authorities to issue stern health warnings and to call for stringent anti-drugs efforts by schools.

A national survey shows nearly one out of every four 15-year-olds has smoked marijuana or hashish and that 15 percent do so regularly.

Adding to the concerns is the fact that cannabis is far more potent now as a result of the EU's eastward expansion, permitting ready access to cannabis producers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Federal authorities in Germany say the cannabis available on street corners and in school yards across Germany these days contains five times the levels of THC -- the key intoxicant in cannabis -- than was the case a generation ago when pot-smoking was limited primarily to hippies.

"Smoking pot has become a fashionable pastime amongst our nation's youngsters during morning recess breaks," federal Consumer Affairs Minister Renate Kuenast warned recently.

"What we have is a generation of pot heads, many of whom become psychologically if not physically addicted to cannabis," she said.

She pointed to recent figures showing that cannabis' effects on adolescents are far more wide-reaching than they are on adults. Young people who smoke pot regularly often display longterm difficulties in memory and cognitive activities.

Some 15,000 adolescents are admitted to drug rehabilitation programs for cannabis-related addiction annually -- five times more than just a decade ago, she said.

Contributing to the widespread use of cannabis is the fact that Germany has one of Europe's highest rates of cigarette smoking among teens. Nearly 40 per cent of teenagers in this country smoke at least occasionally.

Cigarette smoking paves the way for pot smoking, according to a new survey of 3,800 high school students in Hamburg. The survey's alarming results show that 77 per cent of those students who smoke cigarettes have also smoked cannabis, but only 5 per cent of non-smokers have ever smoked pot.

Some officials meanwhile are calling for legalization of cannabis, if only so that its sale and distribution can be regulated.

"Legalization would also rob cannabis of its cult status as a forbidden drug," says Katja Husen, a Greens party politician in Hamburg. "The fact that it is outlawed makes it more attractive to rebellious teens."

In Berlin, for example, a new law is expected to go into effect this summer effectively making it legal to possess the equivalent of up to 40 joints of marijuana.

The legislation permits possession of up to 15 grams of pot or hashish "for personal use".

When the law comes into effect, possibly in a matter of weeks, it will put Berliners in the odd position of living in a city where possession of cannabis is effectively legal, and in the capital of a nation where it is not.

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