Five Political Parties Endorse Denmark Cannabis Legalisation

A pro-cannabis mural in the Christiania district of Copenhagen, Denmark's capital

A pro-cannabis mural in the Christiania district of Copenhagen, Denmark's capital (Source: Flickr)

Five parties in the Danish Parliament have endorsed the legal regulation of cannabis, including a party in the ruling coalition.

The move was endorsed by the Liberal Alliance – the second largest party in the government’s ruling coalition – and four other parties: Alternative, the Red Green Alliance, the Socialist People’s Party, and the Social Liberal Party. Altogether, the five parties hold 52 of the legislature’s 179 seats.

The cultivation, distribution, and possession of cannabis have been prohibited in Denmark for over 60 years, since the implementation of the Euphoriants Act of 1955.  In a public letter, the five parties described this prohibition as “extremely harmful”, and warned that the ban promotes crime, allows “gangs” to make vast amounts of money, does not “prevent abuse”, and makes it difficult for authorities and other adults to establish an open dialogue about cannabis use with young people.

They argue that the state should “get cannabis under control” by legally regulating its production and supply.

Legalisation has not been endorsed by the government’s official opposition, the Social Democrats, although Henrik Sass Larsen – one of the party’s most prominent parliamentarians – has called for cannabis decriminalisation.

According to Esben Houborg, an associate professor at Aarhus University’s Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, cannabis prohibition may not have a significant effect on rates of the drug’s use; “there is a risk that more will start using cannabis because it is easier to access, [but] it is reasonably easily accessible, whether it's criminalised or not”, he said.

However, Houborg says, cannabis prohibition does have a negative effect on people who use drugs, and society as a whole. "A ban on cannabis leads to those who continue to use [being criminalised] and thus risk [facing] some form of marginalisation. At the same time, the ban [feeds into] the illegal drug economy and organised crime that is associated with it," he warned.

Torsten Gejl, a spokesperson for the Alternative party, said that legalisation would need to be accompanied by strict regulations to eradicate the illegal market, and punish anyone who continued to associate with it.

Speaking to The Local, Gejl said that the “use and sale of cannabis is completely out of control in Denmark, [so it] is incredibly important that we have prices on the legal market that compete with the illegal market. That would, I think, [cause part] of the illegal market to disappear. And if biker gangs continue selling to minors, we must crack down on it”.

Providing competitive prices to counter illegal sales is a sentiment echoed by cannabis law reformists around the world. In March 2018, Portugal’s largest political party endorsed a motion in favour of legalising cannabis and fixing the drug’s price at “street value”. In Uruguay, legislators set the price of legal cannabis at $1 per gram (later increased to $1.30 per gram) “to snatch the market away from the drug traffickers".

Despite the long-standing prohibition on cannabis in Denmark, the drug has been openly sold and consumed in Christiania - a neighbourhood of the capital Copenhagen - for almost 50 years. The area’s relatively open drug market faced occasional crackdowns from police yet, in 2016, the district’s so-called district's “Pusher Street” was reportedly bringing in 1 billion kroner ($153 million) per year in cannabis sales. Police activity in the area has intensified in recent weeks, with 82 people charged with cannabis possession in the area on just one day in Christiania in early June.

As in most EU countries, medical cannabis is not widely available to patients in Denmark. However, this year, the government has begun trialling a pilot medical cannabis scheme, whereby doctors can prescribe the drug to a limited number of patients with certain ailments - including multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and nausea associated with chemotherapy.

The five parties are meeting today, June 11, in the Danish Parliament to discuss how to take cannabis legalisation forward.