Police crackdown on Christiania in Copenhagen

14 January 2009

A recent change in Danish cannabis control policy has had significant implications for the structure of the retail-level cannabis market in Copenhagen. A process of restructuring following an crackdown on ‘Pusher Street’ has involved at least four people getting shot and killed in what police describe as struggles for market shares. Combating the retail cannabis market was a top three priority for the Copenhagen police.

 

The shift in policy started in 2004 when possession for personal use was up-penalized, from a discriminatory warning to an obligatory fine of 70 euros which was quadrupled in 2007. The law was immediately followed by an extensive police crackdown on Christiania’s open retail-market. Christiania has had a cannabis market for 32 years. As cannabis use rates rose throughout the ‘90’s the market flourished. On a given day it’s estimated turnover was around 20 k, about twothirds of the total market in Copenhagen.

On the 16th of May 2004 police raided ‘Pusher Street’ and arrested 60 dealers and their helpers along with 20 people accused of forming an organized lookout corps. After the initial raid police implemented a zero-tolerance zone in the area and targeted users in a deterrent effort issuing a total of 4834 fines in a year. Maintaining the zero tolerance zone has so far involved 12 big confrontations with the inhabitants of Christiania. 114 police officers have been injured and 29 formal complaints of police conduct have been lodged with the State Attorney. Following the crackdown the cannabis market adapted by dispersing and applying new methods for retail dealing.

Conclusion

After the crackdown on Christiania’s Pusher Street, the retail-market for cannabis in Copenhagen has undergone drastic changes. So far, no coherent political plan for confronting the new problems has been put forth. The remaining problems concerning replacement, adaptation, dispersion and systemic violence ought to be addressed directly; and, a discussion focusing on a reasonable assessment of the necessary resources to uphold a sustained police presence ought to be a matter receiving public scrutiny.

If this is not done, it remains problematic to identify positive outcomes accomplished by the crackdown. It is quite plausible that elements of the retail-cannabis problem will have worsened seeing as how a new set of actors, more willing to use violence, have gained a foothold geographically, as well as, financially. In the sense that “criminal violence feeds on itself”, it can be expected that the situation will get worse before it gets any better.

Crime, Law and Social Change, 52(4): 2009, 337-345
January 14, 2009