Copenhagen Considers Legalizing Cannabis

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.

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.



  1. Scandinavian on

    While I agree with you that perhaps a higher limit is a good idea, you have to realize that this is not Canada or the USA, it’s part of Continental Europe.

    In Europe that traditional age limit for alcohol was 16, which is changing or has changed to 18 in most places. Denmark still has a 16-year age limit on buying alcohol in shops, and 18 for drinking it in bars. Private consumption of alcohol is unregulated. The age limit used to be unenforced, so that children would be able to buy wine for their parents. It is moving towards stricter enforcement. To propose a higher limit for cannabis than 18, then, would not make sense without also discussing the alcohol age limit.

    Furthermore the proposal is a trial where most parts of the chain would be government controlled. Perhaps private companies would be allowed to participate more if the trial is successful. However, since the central government will not even allow a trial to take place, nothing will happen. The best we can hope for is change at the next elections, and that Copenhagen will make a similar bid to a future government.

    One more thought. Is the 21-year limit for alcohol successful in Northern America? It used to be 18 in most places, didn’t it?

  2. Mikkel Ritske on

    I’m for the legalization of cannabis. This will make for a licensed market which will undermine drug dealing criminals. But, 18 year olds being eligible to buy & use cannabis? No! Absolutely nothing should be done which would derail legalization. The prefrontal lobes of the human brain must have time to fully develop. The prefrontal lobes are the seat of maturity, & though Cannabis is a far safer drug than alcohol or tobacco, it does interfere with brain maturation. One of the main reasons it must be regulated via legalization is so minor will have a harder time buying cannabis. Male maturity fully develops between the ages of 21-25. If cannabis is legal for teens to buy, they’ll supply it to even younger minors. I’d like to see the minimum legal age for cannabis purchase to be 25 years old. This might be an acceptable compromise if there is very good education about cannabis use. Plus, those 25 & over should have it stressed on them the seriousness of not providing cannabis to younger people. Being a ‘nice guy’ & providing cannabis to youths is not being a nice guy. That being said. There’s always this misleading talk by some abolitionists that, “we should legalize cannabis & tax the H*LL out of it”. Wrong! Over-taxation & uneven taxation between neighboring States & Nations is a ready made invitation for criminals to stay in or get back in the cannabis trade by making a profit by undercutting the end user price (including tax) set by the govt regulatory body. So, the price for legal cannabis must be kept low enough to remove the profit motive for criminal involvement. It needs to be explained why there needs to be tough penalties for those who sell or give cannabis to minors. No matter how it turns out. Unlike the deadly & very addictive legal drugs, alcohol & tobacco, cannabis will not kill any users via overdose, nor psychologically addict users. Cannabis is less addictive than caffeine & withdrawals are almost always non-existent, or mild & short lived in duration. For the comparatively few who do have true cannabis addiction, it costs only 1/10th as much to treat addicts as to jail them. Drug addicts released from prison almost always go right back to drug use. While drug treatment has a fairly high success rate by comparison. For every $1 dollar spent on drug treatment. Society saves $9 due to reduce property crimes committed by addicts. Prison, on the other hand is a straight up lose/lose proposition. If you haven’t figured it out by now. The time to control cannabis via legalization is now. Just don’t blow it by being too liberal.

  3. Scandinavian on

    Update, September 25th: The proposal from a majority of Copenhagen politicians is ready. A government monopoly on the legal production and sale of cannabis would be in effect for three years as a trial project. The sale would either be in designated cafés or government monopoly cannabis shops (similar to the way wine is sold in Norway and Sweden). Warming proposes forty such shops, and has already sent the proposal for approval.

    The central government however, which is ruled by the conservative opposition, is strongly against the proposal. And since it would need their agreement, it will probably not pass this time around.

    However, the debate is a good start. The newspaper Politiken is in favor of legal cannabis, and recent polls show a weak majority of the Danish people support trying legalization temporarily.

    See Politiken’s article on the government’s response to Copenhagen-

    Govt.: No legal hash
    The government has firmly rejected any idea of Copenhagen introducing legalised marijuana cafés.