Pubdate: Tue, 7 Jul 2009
Source: Copenhagen Post, The (Denmark)
Page: Front Page
Copyright: 2009 The Copenhagen Post
Referenced: The Global Cannabis Commission Report


Decriminalisation of cannabis has moved from public to political 
debate following the release of a city committee report

A new Social Affairs Committee report on cannabis has recommended 
that the City Council seriously consider decriminalisation of the 
substance's as being a means to curbing gang violence.

The Social Liberals, Red-Green Alliance and Socialist People's Party 
(SF) at City Hall have all backed the legal sale of cannabis in small 
quantities for personal use for some time. And in February, the 
committee was given the green light to review the matter when the 
council's largest party, the Social Democrats, gave their support to 
looking into the issue. Over the past few years the government has 
made a point of cracking down hard on the city's cannabis dealing, 
sending waves of police and armoured vehicles into the city's 
self-proclaimed autonomous area of Christiania, where much of the 
trade is based.

Now the Christiania 'hash' stands on 'Pusher Street' that used to 
openly sell various varieties of the drug to willing buyers have 
become 'paraphernalia' stands, with hash mainly being sold under the table.

Many believe the crackdown, by former Prime Minister Anders Fogh 
Rasmussen, only pushed the hash trade out into the rest of the city, 
where it has been more difficult to regulate. Police admit much of 
the recent gang violence is directly related to the hash trade.

And within the city's Social Affairs Committee a majority have now 
agreed that some loosening of the cannabis law may be necessary to 
curb the violence related to the drug trade.

The committee's report suggested that decriminalising cannabis should 
be considered as a 'possible alternative' to prohibition. The 
committee based much of its information on data compiled by the 
Global Cannabis Commission Report, initiated to examine 'more 
rational and effective' approaches to cannabis control, published by 
UK based charitable fund the Beckley Foundation.

Yet despite a recent poll that indicated 59 percent support 'the 
Amsterdam model' of selling cannabis legally in coffee houses, the 
Social Democrats stop short of backing that solution.

Thor Gronlykke, the party's social affairs spokesman, said the party 
would only support a model that aims to limit the number of abusers 
and addicts.

The Danish Cannabis Council was pleased with the committee's 
recommendation, believing that the sale of cannabis should be part of 
a legal, regulated market. But even Jesper Vad Kristensen, the 
council's president, is against the Dutch-inspired coffee shops, 
saying they have achieved 'an almost mythical status' that gives the 
issue the wrong kind of advertising.

The Red-Green Alliance, however, has long supported the Amsterdam 
model and would like to see cannabis completely decriminalised and 
sold as freely as cigarettes and alcohol are now.

'It's completely ridiculous that police use more time and energy 
looking for clumps of cannabis at Christiania than they do finding 
the people behind human trafficking,' wrote Mikkel Warming, deputy 
mayor for social affairs, on the party's website. 'The legalisation 
of cannabis would get rid of a huge part of gangs' income base.'

Kristensen agreed, adding that gang violence is 'the predictable 
consequence' of any crackdown in a black market.

'Every time a dealer is imprisoned he leaves behind a free-floating 
opportunity for profit, and fighting over that profit is what we've 
seen a lot of these past few years,' he said.

In its report, the committee found that laws forbidding cannabis have 
neither lessened its use nor minimised the crime related to its sale. 
It added that 'easy access to cannabis has not been shown to lead to 
more users or addicts'.

Lars Dueholm, a member of the Liberal Party standing in November's 
local election, has noted the report's conclusions and is one of the 
few members of his party to support decriminalisation.

'For me there are two important reasons to decriminalise cannabis,' 
he told Information newspaper. 'One is the fact that we're pouring 
millions, if not billions, of kroner into gang pockets because 
they're the only ones selling hash when it's illegal.'

Should Dueholm win a seat on the City Council, decriminalisation of 
cannabis in Copenhagen could become even closer to reality.

But Gronlykke says the Social Services Department has to come up with 
a specific proposal before any political action can be taken. And any 
move to decriminalise cannabis in Copenhagen would ultimately have to 
be approved by parliament, according to MP Anne Baastrup, legal 
spokeswoman for the Socialist People's Party.

'The first thing our party wants to do is to get the issue into some 
concrete form based on recommendations from the Social Affairs 
Committee as to what is dangerous or not,' she told The Copenhagen 
Post. 'There's still along way to go on that. But no measure could be 
implemented without parliament's approval.'

Baastrup added that it would be possible to implement 
decriminalisation in certain cities without cannabis being legal in 
other areas, as is the case with the Amsterdam model.

Since the government's crackdown on hash began full force in 2003, 
the amount of the drug confiscated by police has dropped 
significantly from nearly 4,000 kilos to around 900 in 2007.

It is not clear from the data whether the drop in confiscated 
cannabis is due less of it being sold in the city or if tighter gang 
control has made it more difficult for police to seize it.
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