In the middle of Copenhagen where cannabis is federally illegal, sits a small enclave where weed can be freely bought and sold to anyone – welcome to Freetown Christiania, a small aberration on Denmark’s landscape, or a look into the future?
Freetown Christiania is a small intentional community (some would call it a commune) of around 1000 residents in the borough of Christhianshavn which is in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. It covers approximately 84 acres, and is a huge tourist attraction for its eccentric inhabitants, interesting history and philosophies, and for the drugs.
Christiania was built on an old military base, and houses the one area in Denmark where police are likely to turn the other way when it comes to enforcing Denmark’s drug, and especially cannabis-related, laws. The main street downtown is Pusher Street which has stalls set up along it for selling illicit drugs.
Christiania is an interesting little community with just walkers and bikers, as cars are outlawed in the streets. It’s an artsy area, something that has been a mainstay since the beginning, and its inhabitants have their own flare, complete with the creation of their own flag, currency, and even a sign at the entrance that reads “You Are Now Leaving the European Union.”
All this lack of government oversight means that Christiania, being a haven for free thinkers and artists, also has some very lax views when it comes to cannabis use.
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History of Christiania
Christiania came about in 1971 when a group of hobos and artists took over an old military base at the very edge of town. They proclaimed that it was a free town, untouched by Danish law. Whereas other similar claims made in history by individuals and groups have often been met with arrest and imprisonment for those making the claims, Christiania maintained what it proclaimed to be – for the most part – a free town that gets around a lot of Danish laws.
What legal limbo, you ask, allows this to happen? Between 1972 and 1989 there was a lot of legal back and forth concerning whether Christiania had the right to be there at all, and in 1989 a law was passed in which the Danish parliament voted nearly unanimously to let Christiania continue to function as a separate enclave, according to national and district planning directives, part of which was to prevent illegal construction.
There was yet more back and forth until June 4th 2013 when legislation passed that repealed special legislation related to Christiania, but allowed for land deals that would help the citizens of Christiania go from being squatters to owners. This meant that Christiania was back to being governed by standard Danish law, but that it was also owned by its citizens.
Even without special laws to function under, Christiania still goes on as it always has with a free drug trade, and the police turning a blind eye, especially to cannabis. It should be noted, however, that though Christiania favors an open drug market, they do not support harder drugs like heroin which were ruled out by the residents of Christiania themselves back in the 70’s, and no longer sold.
Denmark and drugs
Recreational cannabis is illegal in Denmark. According to Denmark’s 2016 Consolidated Act on Controlled Substances, which includes cannabis – the following are considered criminal offenses: import, export, purchase, sale, production, processing, delivery, receipt, or possession of an illicit substance. These infractions can incur a penalty like a fine or a prison sentence up to two years. Generally small amounts for personal use will receive nothing more than a fine.
Once an illegal substance of a certain amount is transferred, or there is intent to transfer it (in this case 10kg of cannabis), it becomes punishable instead by section 191 of the criminal code with prison sentences around 10 years, but up to 16 depending on the drug and amount.
Denmark’s medical cannabis pilot program
While recreational cannabis is illegal in Denmark, the country is in the middle of a four-year pilot program to assess the benefits and usefulness of medical cannabis. The program went into action on January 1st 2018, and is still going, allowing doctors to give out prescriptions for drugs containing cannabis.
In the initial year of the program (2018), the number of medical cannabis prescriptions tripled which exceeded original expectations. The program allows participants to get flowers imported from the Netherlands, or CannTrust’s Stenocare oral solutions from Canada. Other options like Sativex, Marinol, and other comparable pharmaceutical versions are not a part of the pilot program.
Where will it come from?
Currently medical cannabis being used in Denmark is solely imported. This means that Denmark relies on international supply chains to get goods to citizens, and is subject to any issues relating to breaks in the supply chain. It also means that Denmark is not in control of its whole process, leaving many places where it could optimize costs and profits. Denmark is looking to change this by giving out cultivation authorizations for growing cannabis. As of a year ago, 23 had been given out already, with another 12 pending.
Is legalization likely in Denmark?
While politically Denmark is across the board when it comes to legalization, there has been nothing done yet to move in that direction, and cannabis crimes have been met with more harshness than they were in the past. However, if Christiania is a sign of something, it’s that there’s an undercurrent with a different mindset, especially when it comes freedom of choice, and of course, cannabis use.
As of September 2019, Copenhagen’s municipality city council has many members in favor of legalization, with a goal of starting a trial program that would allow for cannabis sales across Denmark. The reasoning for it is less to help provide smokers with a way to easily get their bud, but rather to drive down the criminal markets (and reclaim some money for itself…I imagine).
A total of 44 out of 55 city council representatives favor a proposal to establish legal dispensaries for cannabis across Copenhagen. The Danish Government still opposes such a measure, but that interest in changing the laws is growing, increases the likelihood for major change in the next few years.
What about hemp and CBD?
Until not too long ago, CBD was not widely accessible in Denmark and required a doctor’s prescription. CBD (cannabidiol), is a cannabinoid of the cannabis plant, but unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), another cannabinoid known for making users feel good, CBD has no psychoactive properties. At the same time, it offers the possibility for numerous health benefits that range from relieving insomnia to the management of severe pain to an aid in dealing with the spasms related to certain neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis.
In July 2018 amendments made to the Executive Order on Euphoriant Substances, specified that products containing .2% THC or less, were no longer classified as euphoriants, and therefore not subject to such regulation. This discretion made CBD more widely available beyond medical use, although not without regulation. In Denmark, the Danish Medicines Agency, and DVFA – the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, are the ones who regulate CBD for market use.
Hemp, for its part, saw a major slowing in Denmark as it had in many countries where it was either used less, or outright illegalized in the 1900’s. This was done on the outside because of its association to marijuana, but probably more so for its many industrial uses that put it at odds with all different sorts of manufacturing, publishing, and chemical companies. The European Union officially began permitting the cultivation of hemp again in 1998, but Denmark didn’t do much with it until many years later when the legalization of cannabis for medical use became an actual thing.
I believe it would be incorrect to say that Denmark is well on its way to cannabis legalization. It is making its way there, but more slowly than other places. Right now, Freetown Christiania stands as a true oasis, and not one that operates under a legal standing, but rather one that operates from a cultural one, where time has sealed it into what it is, even as it exists without deference to the laws that technically govern it.
But it’s there, and that’s important. If Denmark was a 100% zero-tolerance country for cannabis, such a place could not exist, but rather very existence of Christiania and its resistance through time shows how underneath it all, the people of Denmark want something new.
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