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Drug Offences and Narcotics Criminal Law in Germany

Criminal proceedings concerning drug offences and narcotics represent a significant portion of criminal law proceedings. The sentences given in this area can also be severe, and should a person have a narcotics offence on their criminal record, it can have a serious impact on the rest of their lives. The effect can be in areas such as job applications and career choices and obtaining visas or residency permits.

Due to the special knowledge required in this area of criminal law, it is essential for the accused to obtain the assistance of an experienced attorney to defend their criminal case. In this piece, we will examine how German law legislates for the field of narcotics and drug offences. However, if you need more specialised assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact our firm directly by phone, by email or by using our contact form below.

Having the right criminal law representation can make all the difference

At Schlun & Elseven, our criminal defence team will represent you comprehensively

Caught with Drugs in Germany – What to do?

If you are caught with drugs in Germany, it is strongly advisable to contact a criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. German narcotics law is complex, as different German states have varying requirements regarding the possession of drugs, and it is not encouraged to tackle it without expert support. The alleged amount of drugs, the nature of the drugs and the location of the alleged offence will all play a role in the case. Outlining exactly what will depend is challenging as cases can vary greatly. Do not make any detailed statements to police or other bodies without first consulting with legal advice.

If you are subject to a police search, act calmly and do not provide further grounds for criminal charges. If you are aware of the house search in advance, make sure to contact our lawyers who can provide you with detailed assistance and support. Police need to carry out house searches in an appropriate and legally compliant manner. Make notes of how they behave and what they take during the search. Ask for the search warrant to see what exactly they are allowed to search. If you cannot talk to a lawyer before the search, make sure to contact one as soon as possible afterwards, and remember as much detail regarding the search as possible.

How does German Law Legislate for Drug Offences?

Regarding drug offences in German law, the primary piece of legislation is the German Narcotics Act (BtMG – Gesetz über den Verkehr mit Betäubungsmitteln). This legislation defines the nature of drug offences, defines which substances are illegal, and outlines the sanctions as provided for the various narcotics offences. The determination of which substances are deemed illegal is outlined under Annexes I-III BtMG. They cover many substances in hashish, marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and LSD, among others.

In the context of criminal narcotics law and its defence, a clear distinction must be made between the various narcotics. Not all substances viewed as “drugs” should be deemed illegal, and they aren’t. Allowing this difference allows for a more efficient criminal law system where not all “drugs” are viewed as the same. Criminal law also looks at the quantities of the drug used. Khat, hashish and marijuana are so-called “soft drugs”, for which higher limits can be assumed in principle. Ecstasy, amphetamine and methamphetamine are “medium” drugs, and cocaine and heroin are deemed “hard” drugs.

We also have specialised pages concerning “Cocaine Possession in Germany”  and “Marijuana Possession in Germany“, where you will find out more specific information relating to these particular drugs.

According to the Legislation, what Constitute Drugs’ Offences?

According to the legislation, most actions outside of the actual consumption of the drugs are deemed to be criminal offences. These actions include the sale of drugs, the purchasing or acquiring of drugs, the import and export of the drugs, the production and supplying of drugs. As we will see, the number of narcotics and the circumstances of the case will dictate the sanctions given for the drugs offence.

Factors such as gang membership, whether the person was carrying a firearm at the time of purchase and the offender’s previous criminal record will all be considered. Notably, the trading of drugs is a crime, and this does not merely mean the sale and purchase of narcotics but also the intention to do so. So, should a sale of drugs fail, it is not a defence to claim that the perpetrator did not actually sell the drugs if the intention existed to do so.

The Quantities Involved in Drug Offences

The BtMG differentiates between “small amounts” and “significant amounts”. In a large number of cases, a small amount may lead to a discontinuation of the proceedings. If, on the other hand, it is a “significant amount” within the meaning of § 29a BtMG, the accused could face severe punishment, as the crime in question is a crime for which the law provides for a prison sentence of not less than one year. The BtMG does not offer a legal term for a “normal amount”.

The “normal amount” is instead to be determined between the limits of the “small amount” and the “significant amount” for the respective narcotics. For ecstasy (MDMA/MDE/MDEA/MDA), for example, the limit of the small quantity is 3 units of consumption, i.e. 3 pills. The significant amount is set at 250 units of consumption. This demonstrates that the amount deemed to be “above normal” or “significant” can be determined during the proceedings.

The legal assessment is always linked to the net weight of the substance that promotes intoxication. Therefore, this means that the possession or trade of “bad grass” may not be punished as severely as that of “good grass”. In this respect, the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content is what counts. The THC content of marijuana usually is around 17-18%. However, there are considerable fluctuations, with the THC content being between 10-30% within marijuana.

Discontinuation of the Procedure, Therapy Instead of Incarceration

In small quantities, it is often possible to discontinue the procedure under § 31a BtMG or § 29 (5) BtMG. Some drug offences involving minimal amounts are deemed to be not significant enough to bring to court. The various state ministries of justice provide guidelines on the application of § 31a BtMG for the prosecuting authorities. At the same time, this also means that the authorities’ leniency, or lack thereof, varies significantly between the federal states.

Concerning drug-dependent offenders, the principle of “therapy instead of punishment” prevails in German narcotics criminal law. This means that the execution of a sentence can be deferred in favour of therapy or crediting a completed treatment against the ruling under certain conditions. This kind of judgment will be based on the facts of the case and the nature of the offence caused by the defendant.

Investigations in the Field of Drug Offences

In the context of criminal law relating to narcotics, law enforcement authorities often use a wide range of investigative measures, particularly clandestine ones, which can significantly infringe on the rights of the persons concerned. For example, when it comes to house searches, there are many ways the investigating body can infringe on the person’s rights.

Knowing the criminal law procedure in Germany, or having a legal representative who does, can be a great asset to parties who find themselves in this situation. The control of the investigative measures and the objection of their illegality is a vital defence task. Due to the complexity of many proceedings in criminal narcotics law, the defence has many possibilities to steer the proceedings in a certain direction in the client’s interest. The early assignment of a criminal defence lawyer is therefore always advisable.

Our Services in the Field of Drug Offences

At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, we use our multidisciplinary nature to provide our clients with comprehensive legal representation in the field of drug offences. Here listed are just some of the services we offer our clients:

  • Detailed advice, in-court representation and legal counsel on marijuana possession in Germany:  Our detailed page on this topic examines the law relating to marijuana possession in Germany with information on what amounts are considered “insignificant” under German law and outlines the potential consequences for such an offence.
  • Cocaine Possession: We guide our clients on cocaine possession and other offences linked with cocaine in Germany. Our specialised “Cocaine Possession in Germany” page provides greater insight into the consequences of being found guilty of crimes related to cocaine in Germany.
  • House searches: At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, we provide specialist legal guidance on the issue of house searches in Germany. Searching for a person’s house is a breach of their privacy rights and must therefore be carried out appropriately and under the law. Knowing how to act in such a situation is crucial and therefore contacting experienced legal counsel is vital. How the authorities obtained the evidence can often play a pivotal role in a legal case.
  • Driving under the Influence: We provide assistance and in-court representation on issues concerning driving offences in Germany. Our service in this area even extends to cases concerning e-scooting under the influence. Contact us today if you need legal counsel in this area.

Contact us using our contact form below to learn more about how we can help you in your case.

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Practice Group: German Criminal Law

Practice Group:
German Criminal Law

Philipp Busse


Dr. Julius Hagen



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