by Phillip Smith
The city council of Copenhagen voted 39-9 Thursday night to set up a committee to explore how best to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana in the Danish capital. The move is supported by Mayor Frank Jensen.
After the committee makes its recommendations, the issue will go to the Danish parliament, where similar efforts have been blocked in the past, but some Danish politicians are saying this time could be different.
The council vote paved the way for the council's Social Affairs Committee to draft regulations making Copenhagen the first city in Europe to legalize marijuana sales. Holland's famous cannabis cafes that sell marijuana are technically in violation of Dutch law, but are allowed under a policy of pragmatic tolerance.
While marijuana sales are quietly tolerated in Copenhagen's "hippie enclave" of Christiania despite authorities shutting down its most brazen manifestations several years ago, possession and sale of the herb remain illegal under Danish law. Possession of even small amounts can lead to a fine of up to $705 or even jail time. Still, the Copenhagen pot market is strong and vibrant, with annual sales estimated at $275 million, most going to criminal gangs.
"We are thinking of perhaps 30 to 40 public sales houses, where the people aren't interested in selling you more, they're interested in you," said Mikkel Warming, the councilman who heads the Social Affairs Committee. "Who is it better for youngsters to buy marijuana from? A drug pusher, who wants them to use more, who wants them to buy hard drugs, or a civil servant?" he asked in remarks reported by the Telegraph (UK).
Warming said that while questions remained about how to implement a marijuana sales system, the Dutch model was not one he wanted to follow. "We want to make it a little bit more concrete what kind of decriminalization we want: should it be a public buying system, should there be an age limit?" Warming said. "We don't want an Amsterdam model. We want a way to make it legal to import or grow marijuana," so that criminal gangs don't profit it from it, he said.
The notion of legal, regulated marijuana sales has significant, but not unanimous support among the Danish political class, the Copenhagen Post reported. Social Democratic councilor Lars Aslan Anderson told the Post legalizing the trade would bring broad benefits and that there is a parliamentary majority that would approve it.
"It's better that the council distributes hashish and not criminals," he said. "I hope we get the opportunity to try a new policy because we can’t just continue the current prohibition strategy with hash which is very outdated."
But not everyone was on board. "We strongly urge Frank Jensen as the country's former justice minister to stop this crazy proposal," said former Copenhagen deputy minister Martin Geertsen, a member of the conservative Venstre Party.
And not even all the Social Democrats are on board. "We don’t want to make it easier to get hold of hash because then more people would use it and be worse off for it," said Social Democratic MP Ole Haekkerup. "If you look at people who use hard drugs, two-thirds of them started with hashish," he claimed.
Still, legalizing marijuana in Copenhagen will be an item before the Danish parliament next year.