In a country that regulates the sale of over-the-counter painkillers, you’d have thought that a reasonable way to decriminalise the sale of cannabis would have long since been rolled out, perfected and exported to other cities grappling with the same topic.
Yet, to the annoyance of the city – and perhaps to the surprise of those more familiar with the country’s progressive reputation – cannabis remains on the wrong side of the law.
Even though the arguments in favour of legal cannabis are well worn – less crime and higher tax revenue to name just two – it comes as no surprise that parliament has trouble lifting a ban on a substance traditionally lumped into the same group as heroin and cocaine, rather than alcohol and tobacco, where many proponents say it actually belongs.
Yet, even if the government sticks to its position that cannabis should maintain its status as an illegal drug, the City Council has a precedent – and a successful track record – when it comes to taking a liberal attitude towards drugs.
While clearly not condoning the use of heroin, the city, after two decades of lobbying the government, was finally able to approve the opening of the country’s first safe injection room for addicts earlier this year. Long known as having one of the highest rates overdose among its addicts, the initial results of the injection room are clear: no deaths among IV drug users were reported in the first three months following the facility’s opening. During that period, nurses staffing the injection room prevented overdoses that, had they occurred on the street, would likely have resulted in death.
Moreover, there has been a noticeable reduction in the number of used needles and bloody swabs of cotton left on people’s doorsteps, as fewer people now shoot up in public.
In what is perhaps the clearest sign of the success of the injection room, the city is planning to open more, and cities in Denmark are looking to copy Copenhagen’s success.
While it would be foolish to confuse hardcore heroin addicts with casual cannabis users, Copenhagen’s efforts to open its injection room and the initial success show that when it comes to local issues, cities know best.
There is no guarantee that legalisation will be the clear-cut improvement that the injection rooms have been, and the experiences of cities that have adopted similar measures have been mixed. However, mindlessly repeating the same mistakes of drug control is guaranteed to fail.
It’s time we take a different approach to cannabis. Like so many other things, you never know what will happen until you try.