The Danish capital city Copenhagen has presented a motion this month that calls for the freedom to operate their own cannabis policy within the city. The motion put forward at the beginning of March to parliament, known as Folketinget, outlines the city’s plan to let its citizens not only possess and consume cannabis recreationally but also to grow their own and store it at home. 

The pilot scheme, which was agreed on by all 5 political parties, was brought forward out of their realisation of the failure of the war on drugs. Statistics from the National Board of Health, used by officials in the motion, show that for the under 40’s age group 41% have used cannabis at least once, and the total number of people that have used cannabis within the past month has doubled since 1994. 

The framework set out by officials states that it wishes to set up state-operated dispensaries in Copenhagen’s municipalities (areas) that wish to participate in the scheme. The dispensaries would be placed in central locations and operated by trained staff, and customers should have easy to access information about the products. The document states that wholesale must be legal and take place within Denmark.

In a move seemingly designed to reduce consumers’ reliance on illegal sellers of cannabis, officials have set out to limit the cost of products bought from the dispensaries to correspond with that of the black market. They also insist that the quality of the products available remains high by ensuring they “meet the expectations of those who use cannabis”. Purchasers of cannabis products will have to be 18 years old or older and must be a resident of Denmark. 

Officials laid out their plan to enable people to use cannabis safely and responsibly by designing a prevention and treatment strategy that “takes into account the possibilities and challenges of the experimental scheme”. Ongoing evaluations throughout the scheme will be carried out, with adjustments made if needed. All proceeds from the sale of cannabis products in the state-operated dispensaries will be used for the prevention and treatment of abuse. 

Cannabis for medicinal purposes has been permitted in the whole of Denmark under the framework of a 4 year pilot scheme which commenced in 2018. In December 2021 Danish politicians in Folketinget voted unanimously, 102 votes to zero to extend the scheme indefinitely. 

This vote meant that doctors who were already prescribing cannabis were able to extend their patients’ prescriptions for up to 4 years, and medical cannabis companies could continue their production operations indefinitely. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark website, there are 200,000 square metres of cannabis cultivation space available across the country, making it one of the world’s largest cannabis producers. CEO of Danish cannabis company CS Medica, Lone Henriksen said this about the vote last December, “We are glad that the Danish Parliament has expressed their support for the cannabis industry in Denmark. These regulatory reforms will increase the awareness of medical cannabis and hopefully allow the industry to grow even more.”

Setting out their motivations for the pilot scheme, officials for Copenhagen used the criminality of Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania district to highlight what a recreational cannabis pilot scheme could move residents away from. Christiania is located in the Christainshavn borough of Copenhagen and covers approximately 19 acres. It was once a military base, then in 1971, it was squatted by people protesting against the lack of affordable housing in Copenhagen. This take-over of the ex-military barracks soon turned into a hippie come, anarchist, defacto free-town separate from and beyond the control of the Danish government. 

Relations between the estimated 1000 residents of Christinia and the Danish government were restored in the 2010s after years of tension, and Danish law has now been restored. However, the pilot scheme framework highlights that annually there are more than 500 arrests on the street within Christinia notoriously known as Pusher Street. Gangs are said to have been clashing violently there and throughout Copenhagen over the control of drug supply lines. The report suggests that the 40 year war on drugs has failed to tackle a “billion dollar” industry operating in the country which is fueled by prohibition, placing money and power into the hands of drug dealers. 

Referring to how the pilot scheme could combat crime, the report states, “Although legalization still holds the possibility of a parallel black market, it removes a large part of the revenue base and thus also the risk appetite in connection with drug crime, which is why it is expected to have a major impact on gang problems. It is a precondition for undermining organised crime that the production and wholesale stages of the supply chain are legalized, as the Dutch model, where the purchase and sale of cannabis in smaller quantities are decriminalized and where production just not legalized, shows that there remains a large illegal financial gain to fetch for criminal groups that deliver the products to consumers.”

Using examples of how their European neighbours are planning, and in the case of Malta are already operating legal recreational cannabis markets, the officials say, “There is no doubt that we are seeing a development today where more and more countries are legalising cannabis. Norway is up and running in revising its drug laws so that they no longer penalize users. The Swedish National Board of Health recommended that the Swedish government revise drug legislation with a focus on prevention and harm reduction instead punishment, and the government of Luxembourg has announced that they reckon having legalized the use of cannabis before the end of 2022. In general, there is a movement going on in Europe with the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. In Germany, the government has indicated that it wants to legalize controlled sales of cannabis, and thus follows Malta, which has just legalized cannabis for personal use with certain restrictions. Switzerland also has plans to legalize the sale of cannabis, and in Italy, the required number has been collected signatures to hold a referendum on legalization of cannabis.”

Copenhagen eyes 5 year pilot recreational cannabis scheme 

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