Danish people call their country “little Denmark,” and compared to the neighboring Germany and Sweden, Denmark indeed seems small and cozy—a typical Scandinavian country. One of the most liberal and tolerant places in the world, Copenhagen is a home to the so-called Freetown Christiania, a hippie-origin community famous for its love for cannabis. However, the situation is not so simple in the legal sense.
According to the Danish law, there is no difference between crimes involving cannabis and any other drugs. For instance, possession of a “limited quantity” of cannabis (as well as other drugs) can be subjected to a fine at first, but repeated offenses may lead to a maximum of two years' imprisonment.
Getting caught with a joint for the first time will cost a person a minimum of 500 Danish kroner (about $75) or more, depending on the income of the person.
Selling cannabis is also out of the law. The punishment for this crime depends on the quantity of drugs and the profit involved. In most cases, the person will get up to two years' imprisonment, but if the court decides that the quantity is large, and the income is significant, a penalty may be up to ten or even sixteen years in prison.
However, the quantity of drugs has to be really big for the person to get the maximum sentence; so far, there has only been Claus Malmqvist, a Danish drug lord, who got sixteen years in prison for smuggling 13 tons of hashish from Morocco to Denmark in 2007.
Growing your own cannabis is considered to be an even more serious crime than selling it. In most cases, you cannot count on simply getting a fine, this crime will send you directly to the court. And you had better convince the judge that you are growing not for sale but only for your own use; otherwise, the punishment will be strict.
At the same time, back in 2013, the survey published by the Center for Alcohol and Drug Research at Aarhus University (Aarhus is the second biggest town in Denmark) showed that at least 1,200 Danes grew marijuana domestically. This number is not so small compared to the whole population of the country, which is barely 5 million people. The majority of those who grew marijuana at home insisted that they needed cannabis as a medical remedy.
It is interesting that in Denmark, it is illegal to grow cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, but it is allowed to grow cannabis with a low content of TCH if the plants are going to be used for industrial purposes, like feed or textiles. Moreover, it is allowed to buy hemp seeds and any growing equipment. However, if the hemp seeds are potent, they are beyond the law.
All kinds of pipes and paraphernalia are also legal to buy and to sell, but you will have problems if you are caught using them with weed.
The community of Freetown Christiania was organized back in 1971 by a local hippie group who supported cannabis legalization. So, it is not a surprise that soon after that, the central street in Christiania was named Pusher Street and became the center of selling cannabis, hashish, and all kinds of paraphernalia in permanent stalls.
Since the community opened the borders, it has been one of the most visited attractions in Copenhagen. Lots of people come to Christiania to try cannabis, which is possible to buy in the numerous stalls and smoke near the picturesque lake or in several cannabis-friendly cafés inside Christiania.
The whole community is loyal to cannabis but absolutely intolerant to heavy chemical drugs. That is why you cannot compare Pusher Street to Dutch coffeeshops, where you may find a big choice of all kinds of drugs including the prohibited ones.
Danish authorities tried several times to shut down the cannabis trade in Christiania. However, soon after every police raid, the trade reemerged. Even the dismantling of the stalls could not stop it. However, the community slowly shifted from home growing to importing cannabis via the black market.
One of the most impressive attempts to legalize cannabis was made in 2011, when the city of Copenhagen voted for a scheme that would allow to sell and import cannabis through a network of state-run houses and cafés. However, the Danish Parliament rejected the proposal.
Just a few weeks ago, another police raid destroyed 37 cannabis stalls in Christiania. Police arrested 18 people and confiscated over 1,000 pre-rolled joints and almost ten kilos of marijuana and hash. The police officers were hit with eggs and stones by the local citizens. And just within a few minutes after the police left Pusher Street, new cannabis stalls were already standing, and the sales resumed.
This accident once again started the discussion that using police force was ineffective, and the country required a new way of solving the problem. Senior prosecutor Anne Birgitte Stürup believes that the only way to manage the situation is to legalize marijuana “because this is a fight we cannot win.”
Only a few cannabis-based medicinal remedies were approved in Denmark. These are Sativex by GW Pharmaceuticals (used for treating spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis), Marinol and Nabilone that are based on synthetic forms of THC.
During the last 12 years, Danish Medical Agency approved only 3,000 permits for cannabis-based remedies. At the same time, two applications for Bedrocan cannabis were rejected as this remedy was “not ready-made medicinal products” and, therefore, had a harmful effect.
It seems that Denmark is not ready yet to recognize all the capabilities and importance of cannabis as a medicinal plant; however, some changes are already happening.
In October 2014, Denmark agreed to allocate a minimum of 35 million Danish kroner (about $5.2 million) for “research projects on pain relief, including the use of medicinal cannabis.”
In December 2015, the progressive center-left party Alternativet proposed to grow medicinal marijuana on the small islands and use it as an agricultural opportunity for struggling communities.
While hemp cultivation is absolutely legal in Denmark, it is not as popular as it could be expected. The first attempt to change the situation was made in 1998, when several trial fields with various cultivars were planted to study their properties.
However, by 2003 there was only one farmer left in the whole country who cultivated hemp.
The situation stayed unchanged until 2015, when Danish researchers found a new method of extracting succinic acid from hemp. This is a special chemical that is used in a wide number of industrial applications. Usually, it is derived from petroleum. Hemp is a significantly cheaper source, so this discovery made the plant more attractive to the agricultural industry in Denmark.
The same year, the Chairman of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council Lars Hvidtfelt suggested legalizing the production of cannabis for industrial purposes. He compared the situation with the U.S. where cannabis had become a billion-dollar industry and said that it would be a mistake for Denmark not to explore the options.
Moreover, Hvidtfelt stated that the laws that regulated recreational and medicinal cannabis use in Denmark also required changes. His comments were supported by the majority of politicians across the main parties.
So, maybe, in the near future, we will see the changes in Denmark that would allow legalizing cannabis. At least, they already have public support: according to the recent report, 71 percent of Danes believe that medical cannabis should be legalized, and one in four citizens supports total legalization.