- Current Affairs
Sitting at one of the many picnic benches in the centre of Christiania, 23 year-old Christian Holm lights up a tightly rolled joint.
“For ethical reasons,” he explains, “it's just not fair to hand out fines to grown adults, who are hurting no one at all in their choice of smoking, growing and selling cannabis."
Commenting on the current attempts to legalize the plant in Copenhagen, Holm is on the board of managers of PropaGanja, a Copenhagen based legalism union, and is far from new to the controversial topic. The conflict? The city wants to take the one billion kroner cannabis trade out of the hands of criminals.
The controversy started around 2004 when the Danish state started a judicial war on cannabis users. This almost tripled the fines for possession, and set the limit for personal possession to zero grams, down from 5 grams.
“This pushed the "good guy" dealers out of the market, and currently the Hell's Angels and Bandidos have the lions share of the market, purely because of their disregard for the law,” says Holm.
“These laws have also resulted in actual violent engagements between groups in Copenhagen’s suburbs, with small groups of people fighting each other for the control over the cannabis market.”
Looking past the gang activity and control, Holm is a firm believer in Christiania’s environment.
He explains “Christiania is a wonderful town and project, and it should be kept as it is now, a squatters community, where they socially weak can come and live their lives in peace, instead of getting thrown around in the Danish system.”
Lars [name changed], quietly smoking next to Christian until now, interrupts and explains “Ethically it's wrong to punish people for taking a free choice that doesn't hurt others, it would take a lot of easy revenue from the Danish gangs and the tax revenues could go to a lot of good projects.”
Tying their cannabis use to the heart of Danish culture and hygee, Lars continues, "Smoking cannabis frees people up somehow so that they can relax and enjoy the day instead of running around dealing with their jobs and everyday stress."
However, according to Holm, this is difficult to fully embrace due the current state of the cannabis market in Christiania.
“It’s very sad. it is mostly controlled by the Hell's Angels and Bandidos gangs, they almost tripled the fines for possession and added mandatory jail sentences if you were caught selling,” says Holm. “They pushed all the "soft" dealers out, and made way for a biker-controlled market.”
Holm believes the only solution to this control is legalization.
“It could possible curb the rise of these violent engagement, together with revenue from taxes that could go to education on the drug, rehabilitation for people who get addicted and prevention for young people who will have a hard time controlling their use, just as we do with alcohol and tobacco.”
The city of Copenhagen is currently open to both external and domestic suppliers for its product, which would most likely be sold through an established chain of stores, such as pharmacies.
However, Holm is hesitant on the success of this platform. He explains, “people have been used to buying it from their good guy dealers for the last 50 years, and they won't stop buying from private dealers just because you can buy it at a pharmacy, as the price will most likely be higher that what a private dealer could sell it for. The reason for this is that a private dealer can sell in bulk and gives discounts large purchases, something that would never happen if sold from a pharmacy.”
The city has not settled on a final model, however, during a recent march on 4/20, Copenhagen’s deputy mayor for social affairs, Mikkel Warming revealed his support for the general movement.
"It's a lot of money and the gangs are so happy to have that money that they have begun shooting people in our streets for it," Warming explains. "We think it is time to think differently."
Sharing similar opinions as Holm and Lars, Warming says that besides the gang violence, the current cannabis laws also give unnecessary punishments on regular people who choose to smoke cannabis.
"Prohibition has criminalized a lot of people who aren't doing anything particularly bad," he says.
He adds that he would want his 12-year-old daughter, if she were to become curious about marijuana one day, to be able to buy the drug in a safe controlled environment.
As the cold Copenhagen winds began to return, Holm reinforces his argument and explains, “The only possibility of legalization in Denmark, is to do it fully, remove the prohibition of cannabis, and legalize home grows. The cannabis subculture and market in Denmark is already so ingrained in the culture that there's just no way back now.”
Run by Holm and PropaGanja, there will be a second protest May 4th in celebration of International Cannabis March Day.