A leading Danish politician with the opposition Social Democrats is breaking with his party’s position on cannabis and calling for the decriminalization of all drugs in Denmark. MP Henrik Sass Larsen made the remarks in a new book lambasting the Danish government’s efforts to control drugs and outlining the merits of comprehensive drug decriminalization. Larsen’s comments have drawn praise from far-left parties in Denmark. But the Social Democrats, a parliamentary group Larsen chairs, has opposed previous attempts to legalize cannabis.
Nestled in Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen is an officially recognized autonomous community called Christiania. Christiania is the counter-cultural hub of the city, a “freetown” that is also the center of the illicit cannabis trade.
But Copenhagen city officials don’t want the constant police presence in their city. For four straight years, they’ve asked the Danish government to allow the city to implement a trial cannabis legalization program. And for four straight years, the government has denied their requests.
In recent years, Denmark’s right-wing coalition government has rebuffed Copenhagen’s attempts to legalize adult-use cannabis. But in 2014, it was the Social Democrat government that rejected the proposal.
And the party hasn’t shifted since. “It would be wrong to decriminalize cannabis,” Social Democrat spokesperson Trine Bramsen said.
But Social Democrat MP Henrik Larsen has defied his party’s stated position on cannabis. And he’s gone one step further, calling for all drugs to be decriminalized. Larsen’s remarks have received praise from the left-wing Red-Green Alliance and Alternative parties.
In a newly published book, Exodus: The Way To The Center-Left, Danish politician Henrik Sass Larsen decries the five decades of Denmark’s war on drugs as a total failure.
The core of Larsen’s criticism of Denmark’s “zero tolerance party” is his abhorrence at the tremendous amount of resources the state is devoting to enforcement at the expense of social programs and treatment. In his book, Larsen calls zero tolerance a “humanitarian disaster”.
Larsen’s line of argument is familiar, echoing the refrains heard around the world that criminalizing drugs inveighs a vast social cost. Just last week, the British Medical Journal made a virtually identical argument in the pages of its most recent issue.
In Exodus, Larsen even gestures beyond decriminalizing hard drugs toward a future in which all drugs are legal. But the crux of his argument lies in legalizing adult-use cannabis with a regulated, state-controlled market. Additionally, Larsen says the earnings would go toward treatment programs for those adversely affected by drug use.
Throughout his political career, Henrik Sass Larsen has never been involved in making drug policy. But he tells the story of the moment he became convinced that Denmark’s hard-line approach to drug policy had to change.
One evening, Larsen sat with a close friend whose son was just entering the police force. According to Larsen, his friend told him how his son spent the bulk of his training fighting the illicit hash trade in Christiania. “This kind of thing is not harmless,” Larsen writes. “And it made us discuss whether the effort is useful at all.”
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