No plans to follow Colorado's lead on cannabis
Government politician says the health risks of cannabis are too high, but gets her facts wrong on live TV
There is mounting pressure on the government to follow in the footsteps of Uruguay and the US states of Colorado and Washington to legalise the production, sale and consumption of cannabis.
The South American country and US states are the first in the world to abandon the prohibition of the plant product that –according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime – was used by more than 180 million people around the world in 2013. The legal, regulated sales of cannabis – the first of their kind in the world – began in Colorado on January 1.
With nearly a third of Danish adults using cannabis in the last year – the highest rate in the EU – prohibition has failed to stem demand for the drug whose illegal market is worth over one billion kroner a year according to estimates from the national police, Rigspolitiet.
Government prefers status quo
While prominent politicians, including Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen (S) and a majority of the City Council, have argued that the criminal market is more dangerous than the drug itself, the government has no intention of changing its prohibition policies.
“There is no doubt that we have to continue to tackle the criminal gangs that are behind the illegal markets, but I’m against legalising cannabis because of the large number of dangerous side-effects that particularly affect the young,” Trine Bramsen, the legal spokesperson for the ruling Socialdemokraterne, said on the DR news programme ‘Deadline’ last weekend.
Bramsen argued that cannabis has been demonstrated to cause a wide range of physical and mental illnesses, and that if it were legalised, the government would ultimately be held responsible.
Wrong about the Netherlands
She also dismissed the argument put forward by the Copenhagen mayor that legalising the sale of cannabis would undermine the livelihoods of career criminals.
“It’s not a good argument because in the Netherlands, where cannabis is legal, there aren’t fewer gangs. In the Netherlands, there are more gangs and they have moved onto harder crime,” she said.
Except that Bramsen was wrong. While Dutch police tolerate the sale and consumption of cannabis in so-called coffee shops, it remains illegal up until the point of sale, meaning that criminal gangs are still responsible for the market.
Colorado shops made around $5 million in the first week of legal cannabis sales (Photo: Scanpix)
Copenhagen: Legalise it
But this would not be the case under the ‘Copenhagen Model’ that Jensen wants to introduce in the capital. But his efforts have been blocked by members of his own party, including PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who has spoken in favour of legalisation before but has since changed her tune.
According to the World Health Organisation, cannabis can impair cognitive development and in some cases exacerbate schizophrenia.
Copenhagen police officer Dan Bjerregaard points out that, however, that it’s hypocritical to worry about the health impact of cannabis, given the widespread societal acceptance of alcohol.
Cops support legalisation
“My experience in Copenhagen’s nightlife leads me to believe that alcohol is the drug most responsible for causing damage to people. This should be the most weighted argument in the debate about prohibition,” Bjerregaard wrote in an editorial for Berlingske newspaper. “The prohibition of cannabis and criminalisation of its users therefore seems a little arbitrary.”
Bjerregaard’s support of decriminalisation is echoed by fellow police officer Andreas Kjær who, also writing in Berlingske, pointed out the increased penalties for possessing cannabis, which were introduced in 2007, made no difference to Danish consumption.
“It’s about time that Denmark takes a lead and legalises cannabis in a manner that is controlled by the state. It is not the same as saying that cannabis is healthy, but rather it is a cynical realisation that cannabis has come to stay,” Kjær said, adding that it would both improve the quality of the product and bring vulnerable and abusive users closer to the health system.
Activists take the lead
Not everyone is waiting for legalisation, however. Khodr ‘Cutter’ Mehri is the founder of the pro-cannabis association Propaganja and is appearing in court on Friday to face charges of selling cannabis.
Mehri intends to plead guilty and says that he has kept the state informed of his illegal activity from the start.
“When I opened my web shop, I informed the tax authorities what it was for, so they’ve known all along what I’ve been up to, and there’s no need to waste five days in court. I’m proud that I sold cannabis. There’s no need to waste taxpayer money in a long court case when I can admit to everything in less than five minutes,” Mehri said.
“We really just ought to legalise cannabis. The majority of people want it, and that’s the way our democracy should work,” he said. “We’re not talking about legalising heroin or guns. It’s a harmless plant.”