CANNABIS CULTURE - A debate over legal marijuana has been raging in Denmark this summer because of an unpleasant gang war.
Denmark has had a liberal attitude towards cannabis since the 1970s. The open sale of hashish and marijuana had long been tolerated in the famous Pusher Street in Christiania, a haven for hippies and anarchists allowed to exist in the middle of Copenhagen. In its early years, Christiania had a conflict between users and sellers of hard and soft drugs, and the hard drugs were expelled from the village. Only soft drugs were tolerated, a policy that has worked well for many years.
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Since the conservative government chose to close down the open sale in 2004, the cannabis market spread all over Copenhagen. Cannabis quickly became even more available than before, and illegal coffeeshops, so called "hash clubs" opened everywhere. Danish police have closed over 150 such clubs in Copenhagen. In Odense, Denmark's third-largest city, they are still openly advertising their services.
With increasing clampdowns came increasing violence, and biker gangs were pitted against other gangs consisting mainly of immigrants. Gangs performed visitations of random passerbys to check for rival gang members, and several liquidations and shootouts took place. People were afraid to get caught in the crossfire, and the Danish police asked people to stop buying hashish.
That's when several danish politicians came up with a better idea: legalize it. And don't do like the dutch and just legalize the retail outlets, but the whole chain, to take away the entire criminal market. The Social Magistrate of Copenhagens city council, Mikkel Warming, suggested letting coffee shops sell hashish legally. His proposal was not voted on, instead the city council voted to get concrete proposals on how it can be done, and continue debate after summer.
Ann-Sofie Von Bech of the Social Administration of Copenhagen came up with the requested report and recommendations on the 25th of May. The report refers to the Beckley Foundation Cannabis Commission report in several places. It can be read here, through Google Translate:
In short, the report concludes (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) that there are no examples of state controlled and regulated cannabis, but that it could nevertheless be an alternative to the current situation of illegality. It admits that prohibition has not had an effect on use of cannabis or the criminality surrounding it. Furthermore, the report recommends that the government, if they choose to legalize, put an eighteen year age limit on the drug, and that relevant information about harmful effects are distributed to users. Advertising would be illegal, and the situation should be monitored closely.
Polls showed that 59% of Denmark supports legalization, and a majority of the youth wings of the political parties support it as well; however, the chances of it passing now are slim, as it would have to be approved by the Ministry of Justice.
The Minister of Justice has already made it clear that Copenhagen would not get this dispensation, but a majority of Copenhagen's politicians are taking this discussion seriously, and Warming says the "idea is being kept alive".
Expect debate to continue soon, especially if the drug wars do not calm down in Copenhagen.
By Ed Freeman, Cannabis Culture - Wednesday, September 16 2009
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