The conundrum of banning the cannabis trade in Denmark’s most famous illegal street 

Which is better: having the cannabis trade centralized in a single street in a single part of the city or spreading it all around? The most optimal option would be to eradicate the cannabis trade altogether, but that seems unlikely, so the politicians, police and citizens of Copenhagen, Denmark, must now choose. 

The entrance to Christiania. Photo: Natalie Rocha

By Oskar Hammer Sylvestersen and Natalie Rocha

On August 26, five people were shot; one of these, a 30-year-old with known gang affiliations, died from his injuries. This shooting was the last in a long string of violent incidents between gangs for control of the cannabis trade in the street commonly known as Pusher Street in the Freetown of Christiania in Central Copenhagen. A cannabis trade that has been going on since the 1970s and is estimated to earn the gangs over one billion DKK (142 million USD) a year. 

But following the shooting on the 26th, the 50-year-old tradition of seeking cannabis in Christiania may come to an end, at least if you ask the Danish minister of justice, Peter Hummelgaard, who has vowed to put his foot down and stop the cannabis trade in Pusher Street once and for all. But closing Pusher Street may create even more problems than it solves.

The squatters that stayed.

Christiania established itself in the wake of the 1960s cultural youth rebellion that spread in Western like the US, Germany, Denmark, and many others. At the end of the 1960s, the Danish Army was moving out of the old military barracks in the neighborhood of Christianshavn in Copenhagen. When the last army personnel left, a diverse group of squatters, hippies, addicts, homeless and artists moved in and created the Freetown of Christiania on September 26 1971. Christiania was created with values of freedom, equality, and fairness and was to be an independent and self-governing society removed from the Danish Government. From the beginning, Christiania was a hot potato for the politicians, with many of them wanting it closed. Danish authorities made numerous agreements, and laws were passed in the following years to allow Christiania to exist. Still, in 2012, a final period was made in Christiania’s long road for legal occupancy. Christiania was now allowed to rent their area from the Danish state, and it’s therefore legal to live in Christiania today, unlike 50 years ago. But many things remain the same. The illegal cannabis trade is still ongoing, and gangs fighting for control of this trade are still present.  

Harsher sentences and increased police presence

On August 27, the day after the last shooting took place, the citizens of Christiania took a historic decision; They wanted to close Pusher Street and end the selling of Cannabis in Christiania. But they admitted that they couldn’t do it alone. They needed the Government’s help if the only 1.000 strong small community would be able to push the violent gangs out. And help would come. 

On September 7, the Danish Minister of Justice, Peter Hummelgaard, introduced his plan to stop selling cannabis on Pusher Street. First, there would be a “Massive” increase in police presence in Christiania and the surrounding neighborhoods. Secondly, The Government will create stricter penalty zones, where cannabis dealing and related crimes would be punished twice as hard. 

But when journalists from SFGATE visited Christiania on September 14, 19 days after the shooting, 18 days after the citizens of Christiania took their historic decision, and seven days after the Minister of Justice stated that Pusher Street would be permanently closed, the Cannabis trade is still flourishing.

More than 25 stalls selling cannabis could be counted, and on a 45-second walk down Pusher Street, journalists from SFGATE were offered to buy cannabis from six different sellers. So, the increase in police and the possibility of getting sentenced twice as hard does apparently not frighten the dealers in Pusher Street.

Centralised or spread out? 

One of the main fears of cracking down too hard on the cannabis trade in Pusher Street is that it will move trade to surrounding streets, parks, and municipalities. This would create a situation where the Government and police would no longer have a centralized problem in Pusher Street, where they know where the dealers are but would now have to search the city to find them. Critics think that the Government’s plan to eradicate the cannabis trade by increasing police presence and enforcing harsher would create this exact scenario. 

But if you ask some people living close to Christiania, they tell a different story. They are used to the cannabis trade and don’t expect many problems if it moves. 

Watch the video below for their reactions to the possibility of the cannabis trade moving outside Christiania. 

This story is for an audience in the city of San Francisco and could be published on under travel.