However, despite the Nordic nation’s apparent liberal attitude to cannabis, the laws of the country are actually relatively strict.
In Denmark, use of drugs is not considered a criminal offence, and is not regulated by the law. However, possession of drugs is an offence, and may be subject to a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.
Since 2004 (when the Euphoriants Act of 1955 was notably amended), the law has stated that individuals found in possession of a “limited quantity” of a drug will be subject to a warning (or according to ENCOD, a series of fines according to quantity). However, repeated offences involving even minor quantities may result in charges being brought.
There is no legal differentiation made between cannabis and any other drug. Since 2004, the law has directed courts to consider “the harmful effects of the substance”, which in practice means that cannabis offences are generally punished less severely than “harder” drugs.
In Denmark, the sale of drugs is also punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. However, if the quantity or profit involved is significant, then heavier punishments may be levied. For sale of “larger quantities” to “a large number of people, and in order to obtain significant income”, a penalty of up to ten years’ imprisonment may be levied.
For the sale of a “significant amount of a particularly dangerous substance”, a maximum of sixteen years’ imprisonment may be levied.
The sale of cannabis is not legally differentiated from that of any other drug, but as cannabis is extremely unlikely to ever be considered a “particularly dangerous substance”, the maximum penalty is very unlikely to apply. That said, in 2007, Danish courts sentenced one of the country’s biggest and most notorious hashish smugglers, Claus Malmqvist, to the maximum sixteen years’ imprisonment.
There are no laws specifically dealing with cannabis cultivation in Denmark, and individuals found cultivating cannabis in even minor quantities are likely to be charged with production or supply of drugs.
Despite this, it seems that a significant number of Danes grow their own cannabis, according to research published in 2013 by the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research at Aarhus University. This survey suggested that at least 1,200 Danes grow cannabis at home, and that significant quantities of them do so for medicinal purposes.
The community of Freetown Christiania has officially existed since 1971, and the infamous Pusher Street – with its permanent stalls selling cannabis and hashish – came into existence not long afterwards. The illicit cannabis trade was allowed to continue relatively unhindered for many years, but gradually shifted from a homegrown, hippie industry to a gang-run black market.
In 2004, authorities opted to shut down the trade; ultimately, vendors actually dismantled their stalls in anticipation of a police raid. However, sale of cannabis did not disappear for long; today, it appears that the trade is flourishing as much as ever.
In 2011, the Copenhagen City Council passed a motion allowing for regulated sale of cannabis within the city, by an overwhelming margin of thirty-nine to one. This legislation would have overseen the opening of thirty or forty public sales houses ostensibly similar to coffeeshops – although the councillors behind the proposal were keen to extend the system beyond the Netherland’s regressive “backdoor” system and also allow sale and import of cannabis.
However, the proposal was rejected by lawmakers at the national level, just as a similar proposal three years prior had been rejected. Currently, it appears that there are no new proposals in the pipeline.
Over recent years, Denmark has demonstrated openness to the idea of medicinal cannabis. In 2011, GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex was approved for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, becoming the first modern cannabis-based drug to be marketed in Denmark.
However, even prior to that, it was possible for doctors to prescribe Marinol and Nabilone (synthetic forms of THC) under a special “compassionate use permit”, as the drugs were approved and licensed by other countries. The Danish Medical Agency oversees and licenses applications of this nature, and has approved almost 3,000 permits since 2004.
However, they also report receiving two applications for Bedrocan cannabis, which were rejected. They state that Bedrocan applications would be unlikely to be accepted as they are “not ready-made medicinal products”, and state elsewhere that “raw cannabis is not very likely to be authorised as a medicine” as it “has a large number of harmful effects”.
It is clear that there is still much work to be done before the capabilities and importance of whole-plant cannabis medicines will be recognised by Danish health authorities.
However, in October 2014 it was reported that Denmark’s coalition government had agreed to allocate a minimum of 35 million kroner (currently €4.7 million) for “research projects on pain relief, including the use of medicinal cannabis”. Perhaps attitudes towards whole-plant cannabis will begin to shift as research progresses.
In December 2015, the centre-left, progressive party Alternativet proposed a new law that would permit the use of cannabis for medical purposes. According to a report from March 2016, there is a currently a “small parliamentary majority” in favour of legalising medical cannabis. This same article also reports Alternativet’s proposal to utilise several small Danish islands (which are currently experiencing economic difficulties) for the purpose of growing medical cannabis!
Cold-adapted, hemp-like strains of cannabis probably first appeared in the region that is now Denmark by around two thousand years ago. It is thought that cannabis first reached the northwest reaches of Russia and the fringes of Europe by around four thousand years ago, and continued its spread westward over the following two or three thousand years.
In Denmark, hemp seeds have been found in at least three Viking settlements dated to around 375–550 CE, 650–1000 CE and 750–900 CE. Retting pits dated to 800 BCE – 1050 CE have also been found in Denmark, suggesting that the plant was already being used for fibre by this time (although early use at the site may have been of flax or nettle.
As well as the finds in Denmark, there have been abundant finds in nearby Germany, Sweden and Norway, which all back up the hypothesis that cannabis was firstintroduced to the region by at least two thousand years ago.
By the seventeenth century, Denmark had certainly established a flourishing hemp industry. On the Danish island of Fyn, it is said that knowledge of hemp-growing techniques had been brought back by sailors returning from the Baltic lands.
The Danish climate is forgiving compared to much of the rest of Scandinavia, and due to this, hemp can flourish more easily there than in Norway, for example. In 1629, the joint ruler of Norway and Denmark, King Christian IV, demanded that the Danish farmers grow hemp to supply his navy, even supplying the necessary seeds.
His successor King Christian V went a step further, and required farmers to grow hemp in his Danish Law of 1683:
“Every farmer who holds a full farm, and does not sow a bushel of hemp seed, and he, who holds half a farm, half a bushel, should by his lord be charged and punished as an obstinate and reluctant servant, unless he proves that he has no suitable soil therefore.”
The hemp industry in Denmark died out in the early stages of the twentieth century, just as it did throughout Europe and much of the remaining world. When the EU legislated to permit hemp farming, Denmark rapidly moved to conduct tests, planting several trial fields of various cultivars between 1998 and 2000 to assess yield, fibre quality and so on.
However, the Danish hemp industry did not take off, and a report published in 2003 suggests that at the time of writing, there was just one hemp farmer operating in the whole of Denmark. It is not clear why so few Danish farmers cultivate hemp; as with other EU countries, a government-issued license is available on application, and it is legal to cultivate hemp for the production of fibre, for biomass, and as a “wild crop”.
In 2015, Danish researchers discovered a new method for extracting a chemical known as succinic acid from hemp. Succinic acid, which is crucial in a wide range of industrial applications, is usually derived from petroleum; the possibility of deriving both it and ethanol from hemp boosts the plant’s usefulness to the chemicals industry and renders it of greater potential value than corn (which can only produce ethanol, but does so in greater quantities than hemp, so is usually seen as more commercially exploitable).
Also in 2015, the Danish Agriculture and Food Council announced the desire to legalize cannabis in a framework similar to that already implemented by several US states. The Chairman of the Agriculture and Food council Lars Hvidtfelt stated:
“Cannabis use is often debated here in Denmark, but what we need to do, once and for all, is to analyse all the opportunities and risks, and to bust the myths, so we can find out if we could have a significant cannabis industry here, like in the United States. The cannabis plant can be used in building materials, clothing, medicine and recreationally, so the potential both for agriculture and industry is enormous. However, it requires that we as a society agree this is the way we want to go. Seeing that growing cannabis has become a billion-dollar industry in the US, I simply don’t think we can afford not to explore our options.”
As per EU law, Danish farmers are only permitted to cultivate hemp with a maximum THC level of 0.2 percent. Hvidtfelt stated that in order to explore other avenues, such as medicinal and recreational use, these laws must be changed.
His comments were met with broad approval and agreement by politicians across the main parties, a positive attitude to cannabis that is reflected in public opinion (according to a recent report, 71 percent of Danes support legalization for medical use, while just 25 percent support outright legalization).