Fighting Christiania Hash Trade “A Waste of Time”

Maybe it’s Euro-giddiness from the recent warm and sunny spring weather: this weblog seems to be building up a thread on the subject of soft-drug use and its combating by local authorities. A few days ago I discussed here the new pot-sniffing mini-chopper the Dutch authorities had come up with to locate and destroy marijuana farms. Now I’ve run across an interesting article in the Danish press about Copenhagen’s famous drug-peddling “Christiania” quarter.

For those not in the know, “Freetown Christiania” is a small section of the Danish capital, a former military-barracks area, which was occupied by squatters beginning in 1971, who soon declared themselves to be self-governing there. Naturally, the local and national authorities have never conceded any sort of full independence; rather, a set of extraordinary agreements has been worked out over the years that divides the functions this neighborhood can undertake for itself (including paying taxes for public utilities and trash-removal) and those which the Danish authorities are still responsible for. Still, it is commonly assumed that those authorities would much prefer to shut the “Freetown” down at some point and return it completely to local and national Danish law, just like any other neighborhood in the country, if only some way could be found that would not bring with it massive, messy civil resistance from the residents.

One particular bone of contention between “Christianites” and the authorities has precisely been recreational drugs. “Hard drugs” (e.g. heroin, cocaine) have long been taboo there by the community’s own rules, but the perennial local attitude towards “softer” drugs might best be illustrated by mentioning Christiania’s main thoroughfare (although no motor vehicles are allowed anywhere), named “Pusher Street.” Indeed, Pusher Street has been famous almost since the beginning of Christiania’s existence as the place where you could go to buy some hash or marijuana at the vendor-stands located there – until 2004, when starting in January the government started sending in masses of armored-and-armed policemen in raids to shut them down.

Of course those high-profile actions did not actually stop the selling of hash, etc. by the Christiania dealers. They only put a stop to the public sale of such that had previously been conducted on the community’s (beg pardon . . .) high street, and left residents in a constant state of anxiety over when hordes of policemen would without warning come visiting again.

But now the news comes from the national newspaper Politiken (but credited to the Danish news agency Ritzau) that top Copenhagen police officials now view this sort of constant low-level warfare with Christiania as just a waste of time. For example, from the head of the police union and truly one of Copenhagen’s pillars of society, Peter Ibsen:

It’s hard to see the value of all the resources and efforts that have been put to use. The hash business occurs on a widespread basis like before, and looking at the last five years as a whole I would tend to say that it has been sheer wasted energy and absolutely not worth the effort. Things can’t go on this way. We have ended up in a morass, and the politicians will have to decide what they want.

OK, it’s true that Ibsen is the union representative, who you would expect to lobby for easier work-conditions for the city policemen generally (that doesn’t make him into any enemy of the people, though). But we also get similar sentiments from Henrik Raun, now deputy for the Copenhagen police special units, who was heavily involved in the planning and execution of the 2004 raids in particular. He admits that police efforts towards taming the Christiania drug-trade have gradually become mere af navn end af gavn or “more in name than in actual fact.” He also brings up how hard it is mentally for the police who have to go raid Christiania, although here he does not go into specifics.

(I gather from this remark that Denmark has evolved as a human community far enough along that Danes cannot now embark upon any sort of invasion and violence – no matter how fully state-sanctioned – without thereby experiencing mental turmoil. That’s quite a change, you realize, from the attitude of their ancestors, who were sailing out from Danish ports in their longboats about one thousand years ago, headed for loot, rapine, and adventure in England, Ireland, and points beyond.)

The conclusion in which I’m interested here, however, is that the Danish authorities consider the anti-drugs war against Christiania to be useless. Could this be part of a gathering trend? You might recall – before swine flu became what everyone in the world calls to mind whenever one brings up Mexico – the concern on the part of the Obama administration about the terrible drug-wars occurring there, and the realization that it was the enormous sums to be earned in the huge-but-illegal American narcotics market that probably constituted the root cause. Now, I will refrain here from staking any personal position on the issue of drugs legalization; EuroSavant readers, though, as usual, are welcome to weigh in by e-mail with their own opinions, and particularly with any indications they may have taken notice of from elsewhere in the world of any further momentum that is gathering behind it.

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