It is no secret that “Weed Day”—April 20—is also, historically, Adolf Hitler’s birthday.
This is a bit of a historical (bad) joke.
Despite reliance on methamphetamine, morphine, and heroin by the Third Reich, not to mention Hitler’s own personal pharmacopeia of medications, cannabis, as well as R&D on the plant, conducted largely by Jewish scientists, was banned by the middle of the 1930’s in Germany as the Nazis consolidated power.
After WWII, American federal government money flowed into cannabis research in Israel while similar efforts were banned both in the U.S. and Germany. The British company GW Pharmaceuticals was only founded in the last years of the 20th century.
As a result, Israel, during the latter part of the last century and increasingly during the last two decades, has become the most advanced medical marijuana market (no matter of its size), simply because of the wealth of cannabinoid science developed in the country.
The name Raphael Mechoulam (a refugee from the Nazi regime himself) is a legend in the industry.
A New Day Is Dawning
Fast forward eighty plus years after the end of the war, and how things indeed have changed auf Deutschland. After mandating that medical cannabis be compensated under public health insurance in 2017, Germany is today the third largest legal cannabis country and the largest medical cannabis market in the world. And Jews, particularly from Israel, the U.S. and Britain, are also trying to come back to work in the now burgeoning industry auf Deutschland.
Beyond cannabis reform, there is another reason for the interest in the industry here for the Jewish community. There is a special law in Germany, enshrined in the so-called “Basic Law” or Grundegesetz since 1949, which (theoretically at least) restores the German citizenship of those who fled and their descendants.
For Jews, this is a huge opportunity if not (literally) a passport to pursue an industry in the land of their ancestors that Israel, so far, has pioneered globally since the end of WWII. There is more than a little historical justice in that.
Except that up until now, that journey has been unnecessarily difficult for reasons that have nothing to do with cannabis.
A Personal Journey Back To The Homeland
My family fled in stages during the 1930’s. My paternal great-grandfather Julius Lahnstein, founded one of the first department stores in Germany—in Mainz—that was literally iconic by the time Hitler came to power. The building appeared on postcards and even postage stamps. It was one of the largest businesses in town, right across from the cathedral and the family was the philanthropic force behind many civic endeavors, including the local football (soccer) team, Mainz 05. However for most of his life and all of mine, the German government refused to let either my father or me back into the country.
I am 53 years old.
I left the U.S. for Germany in 2013, the year after my father died, determined to change this historical injustice, but also to explore what I hoped would become an intriguing cannabis market on the driving end of European reform. I became one of the first “foreign” correspondents covering the industry from Europe as of 2014. The same year the city of Mainz (about thirty miles from Frankfurt and where my family’s department store was located) formally apologized to my family.
Exclusion From The Cannabis Industry
Beyond my own personal legal battles to become a citizen again however, there were other injustices afoot. This started with the fact that Germans were excluded from the first cannabis cultivation tender to grow and process cannabis in Germany as of 2017. Even more ironically, Israel was also prohibited from importing cannabis into the country. Further, as began to be even more clear after Brexit in 2016, many if not most people who applied for restitution of citizenship rights under Article 116, the German repatriation law, were denied the same by German authorities and for a variety of specious reasons that also potentially violate EU human rights law.
Jews, in other words, were almost completely and systematically being kept out of an industry that they had helped pioneer in a country which had banned both them and the drug during the Third Reich.
For the last seven years, even as cannabis reform has begun to blossom here, I have fought through the courts for my right to stay here, as a German citizen, as well as greater cannabis reform.
I am still a rarity, but far from the only Jew to do so.
In June 2020, I won my case at the German Supreme Court, vastly expanding the right of those persecuted and their descendants to return to Germany as citizens. It is a landmark ruling, and made global news because it is already being considered the most important change in repatriation law in Germany for at least the last forty years if not since the end of WWII.
In the meantime, certainly since 2017, Jews, particularly from Israel, began finding ways to access the German market, especially by establishing cannabis companies in Eastern Europe and/or partnering with Jews already residing in Germany, particularly in Berlin. However most of these Jews are not descendants of Germans, but Russians who were let into Germany during the pogroms in the 1980’s in the former Soviet Union.
As of this year, literally a week before the Supreme Court decided on my case (with implications for literally thousands of Jews globally), Israel finally approved the export of medical cannabis—with an eye clearly on the prize of Deutschland. Indeed the first competitor to the generic German produced Dronabinol, which entered the market here as of this spring, is in fact, produced in Israel. Flower and extracts are in the pipeline to be shipped here, post haste, especially because Germany right now is experiencing (another) shortage of flower. The domestic tender cultivation bid, delayed for several years by lawsuits, has finally produced a domestic cannabis crop but the distribution of the same will probably be delayed this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has never been a better time, in other words, for Jews to reclaim both citizenship again auf Deutschland, but also begin to establish themselves in the German cannabis industry, no matter where they are based. However the appeal, if not curiosity, of returning to Germany to work in the industry is a hot topic in Jewish circles, globally.
The Opportunities In Germany For Returning Jews In The Cannabis Industry
Despite the growing market here, there is a huge need for a stronger cannabis industry in Germany—from placing pressure on authorities to continue to change laws—to education and science beyond the actual production and distribution of the drug.
Today, despite their small numbers, there are indeed Jews in the German cannabis industry or connected to it somehow—and not just in Berlin. And there are clearly more coming.
The combined stigmas have cancelled each other out.
And while that does little, on a personal basis, to undo or erase appalling acts of racist and antisemitic genocide, if not the downsides of prohibition, it is clearly a new day.
Jews are returning to claim their ancestral homeland, as well as their rightful places in one of the most intriguing “new” industries on the planet right now, in a country which displaced if not murdered their ancestors.