German Language Blog

How Broccoli Became Synonymous for Cannabis in Germany Posted by on Nov 4, 2021 in Culture, News, Politics, Slang, Vocabulary

In this series, I want to discuss Worte (words) that became famous in Germany, and what their impact was afterwards. Today, we’ll look at a new word for cannabis. If you look into the debate about legalizing marihuana in Germany from time to time, you might have read that people refer to der Cannabis (cannabis) as all kinds of things, but mostly das Gras (weed, literally “grass”), das Marihuana (marihuana) or das Pot (from the English “pot”). But since last year, a new synonym has entered the discourse: das Brokkoli (broccoli). Why, and where does this new word come from?

Click here for more posts in the series Famous German Worte

The government’s position towards legalization

Brokkoli Marijuana Cannabis Famous Words broccoli

Is this broccoli? (Photo by David Gabrić on Unsplash)

After other European countries, like Portugal with die Entkriminalisierung (decriminalization) of Marihuana and some US states, like Colorado with die Legalisierung (legalization) of Gras set the tone, the political pressure to legalize weed in Germany has been rising. And the (still) sitting government of CDU/CSU and SPD have been avoiding this question, making it rather clear that they are against die Legalisierung. After the elections in September, a government that is more in favor of legalization is likely.

Enter Daniela Ludwig, the federal Drogenbeauftragte (German drugs commissioner). In her role, she is responsible for a part the execution of the government’s drugs policy, especially regarding alcohol consumption and smoking. But of course, this also includes illegal drugs, such as weed.

Ludwig has explained her position against legalization with the worry that it would lead to die Verharmlosung (downplaying) of the dangers of Marihuana, especially among die Jugend (youth). Furthermore, she said ich will keine dritte Volksdroge (I don’t want a third type of public drugs), referring to the current market of the Volksdrogen cigarettes and alcohol. In general, the position is to reduce Konsum (m, consumption) of these Volksdrogen and to do more Aufklärungsarbeit (f, educational work) as well as helping those that are süchtig (addicted).

She said: Je mehr wir über Legalisierung sprechen, vermitteln wir den Eindruck, wir reden über einen Stoff, der mehr zufällig noch illegal ist, und bei dem es jetzt endlich mal Zeit wird, dass wir ihn in die Legalität holen, weil er tut ja nichts. Und das ist falsch.” (The more we talk about legalization, we give the impression that we talk about a substance that is more coincidentally still illegal, for which it is now finally the time that we make it legal, because it is harmless after all. And that’s wrong.)

And then something else happened in that same press conference…

Cannabis ist kein Brokkoli

Brokkoli Marijuana Cannabis Famous Words

DEFINITELY not marihuana (Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash)

When political reporter Tilo Jung of Jung & Naiv asked the German Drogenbeauftragte (German drugs commissioner) Daniela Ludwig during a Bundespressekonferenz (federal press conference) whether she believed that alcohol was more gefährlich (dangerous) than Marihuana, she gave the following, now infamous answer:

Nur weil Alkohol gefährlich ist und umstritten, ist Cannabis kein Brokkoli. Okay?

(Just because alcohol is dangerous and contentious, doesn’t mean that cannabis is broccoli. Ok?)

The flaw that’s being criticized in the German legal framework is that more dangerous drugs like das Rauchen (smoking) and der Alkoholkonsum (alcohol consumption) are legal, yet the less dangerous Marihuana is illegal. So the argument that’s behind Ludwig’s answer here, that cannabis is dangerous and is therefore illegal, doesn’t hold water.

After this interaction, Brokkoli became widespread as a term first used with irony, and later as an actual synonym for Gras. For example, the Deutscher Hanfverband (German Hemp Society) made posters saying Cannabis ist kein Brokkoli – und Bier ist kein Apfelsaft (Cannabis is no broccoli – and beer is no apple juice). The connection to this infamous quote still exists, but it wouldn’t surprise me if in a few years, the link is forgotten and people simply see the word Brokkoli as yet another word that can refer to the green herb.

Ludwig’s Vorgängerin (f, predecessor), Marlene Mortler, said some questionable things herself in her time:

To the question Warum ist Alkohol erlaubt und Cannabis verboten? (Why is alcohol allowed and cannabis prohibited?), she simply answered: Weil Cannabis eine illegale Droge ist, Punkt. (Because cannabis is an illegal drug, period).

And that’s the story of how Brokkoli became a new word for Cannabis! If you know some famous German quotes and you’d like to know what happened with it, tell me in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. Thorsten:

    I have no idea in which bubble that was widespreaded, but that is the first time I hear about it.

    • Sten:

      @Thorsten I personally encountered it many times now, often even without a context, so it could help make sense of a situation in which this word is used :).

      Of course, it isn’t as ubiquitous as some other words for weed, but it’s there.