Switzerland and Copenhagen – beyond cannabis tolerance (part one)

8 12 2011

coffeeshop stickerThe policy of ‘soft drug tolerance’ in the Netherlands is probably the most well-known example of a country attempting to regulate the use and sale of cannabis. Recognising that marijuana and hashish consumption cause very little social or personal harm, Holland’s laws were changed to differentiate relatively benign soft drugs from genuinely harmful hard drugs.

Low rate of cannabis consumption

Not only did this free citizens from unreasonable prosecution, the law change had the positive effect of separating the cannabis market from the hard drug black market, so that cannabis was not sold alongside dangerous, addictive substances. As a result, Holland boasts the lowest rates of hard drug use in the Western world, and even has a significantly lower rate of cannabis consumption than most comparable countries.

Sadly, the Dutch tolerance model is under attack from the current government of the Netherlands, and there are regular attempts to undermine the rational drug laws that have benefited the country for the last three and a half decades.

Reform of cannabis laws in Europe

Nevertheless, the undeniable success of the Dutch model has had an impact on the policy of other European countries. Spain, Portugal and Belgium have made advances in decriminalising small-scale personal growing and possession, while the Czech Republic and Slovakia are likely to reform their laws soon.

It’s also worth remembering that two other European nations enjoyed an enviable amount of cannabis freedom up until the mid-2000s. Denmark (specifically Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen) and Switzerland tolerated open sales of marijuana and hashish, though neither country had officially decriminalised cannabis at the time.

A cannabis vendor in Christiania, in 2002

A cannabis vendor in Christiania, in 2002

Christiania and the hash and marijuana trade

The Christiania hashish market began with the founding of the Freetown in 1971 and was tolerated by the Danish authorities on the principle that it reduced the association between cannabis and hard drugs, and also because concentrating the trade in one area was seen as preferable to having it dispersed throughout the country.

Swiss ‘aromatic pillows’ of cannabis

Cannabis growing on balconies in Geneva in 2008

Cannabis growing on balconies in Geneva in 2008

In Switzerland, there was a brief flourishing of shops which sold bags of herbal cannabis as ‘aromatic pillows’ or ‘bath scents’, on the proviso that the contents were not for human consumption. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Swiss farmers grew cannabis by hundreds of hectares and were said to be producing over 100 tonnes of marijuana per year.

Reversal of advances in cannabis freedom

Between 2004 and 2006, instead of further liberalisation, the authorities in both countries made serious attempts to stamp out these advances in cannabis freedom. The Swiss cannabis shops were closed and large-scale, open cultivation more or less ceased. The Christiana hash market was dismantled by its own traders one day before the Copenhagen police were scheduled to carry out a raid and shut it down.

The demand for cannabis has not been reduced

These days, the Christiana market has more or less returned to its normal state and, predictably, the demand for cannabis is Switzerland has not been reduced by the abolishment of the shops that allowed it to be bought with ease and safety.

Source: Sensi Seeds





Switzerland and Copenhagen – beyond cannabis tolerance (part two)

8 12 2011

Switzerland and Denmark are considering measures which could lead to the return of decriminalised cannabis in 2012. In both cases, the main reason for the proposed change is to reduce the harm caused by pushing cannabis onto the black market. The simple, inarguable fact is that cannabis will continue to be consumed for its medicinal and recreational properties, so allowing otherwise law-abiding people to grow or purchase it legally is the best way to prevent cannabis sales enriching criminals.

Small-scale cultivation of cannabis

Cannabis plants from an indoor grow dismantled by police in Lausanne, Switzerland (photo by police)

Cannabis plants from an indoor grow dismantled by police in Lausanne, Switzerland (photo by police)

 

Four cantons in the French-speaking part of Switzerland – Geneva, Neuchatel, Vaud and Fribourg – have ratified an agreement to allow small-scale cultivation of cannabis within their borders. Under the new law, which should come into effect on January 1st 2012, adult residents may grow up to four cannabis plants for personal consumption. Houses with more than one adult may cultivate four plants per person, provided that each household member tends their own plants. Anyone wishing to grow more than five plants or to trade in cannabis products is required to seek authorisation from the relevant authorities, but growing four plants or fewer will not need to be reported.

The new law is intended to prevent ‘drug tourism’ between cantons with different laws, and to prevent cannabis being sold on the black market. The other 21 cantons of Switzerland have yet to decide on adopting a similar law.

Adults may legally buy cannabis

Similarly, Copenhagen Council is pushing ahead with its proposal to decriminalise cannabis within the city, and has set up a committee to investigate the best way to regulate the sale of hashish and marijuana. Currently, the favoured option is for 30 or 40 Council-controlled shops across the city in which adults may legally buy cannabis.

The Copenhagen cannabis market is estimated to be worth around €200 million per year, most of which is assumed to be controlled by criminal gangs. Social Democrat councillor Lars Aslan Andersen believes that taking control of this trade would benefit all citizens, whether or not they consume cannabis, not to mention the city itself.

“It’s better that the council distributes hashish and not criminals,” he said. “I hope we get the opportunity to try a new policy because we can’t just continue the current prohibition strategy with hash which is very outdated.”

“We don’t want an Amsterdam model”

Mikkel Warming, the Mayor in charge of Social Affairs pointed out that the Council wanted Copenhagen’s decriminalisation to be further reaching than that of the Netherlands, where the growing and importation of cannabis remains illegal, despite its sale being tolerated in licensed coffeeshops.

“We don’t want an Amsterdam model. We want a way to make it legal to import or grow marijuana,” he said.

The Copenhagen City Council’s proposal still has to be ratified by the Danish parliament, which has blocked similar movements in the past. Proponents of the change believe that a majority of the current parliament could support decriminalisation this time around.

In spite of the current Dutch government’s desire to do away with the tolerance policy adopt a regressive attitude to cannabis, it’s very encouraging that several other countries on the continent seem determined to move forward.

 

Source: Sensi Seeds





Cannabis in California: A local and federal divide

1 12 2011

The recent history of cannabis in California  demonstrates a split between state and federal law that is rapidly widening. The first U.S. state to have, in 1913, prohibited the use of the devil’s herb imported by Mexican immigrants that was “marijuana”, California was also the first to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis in 1996.

15 years of legal ambiguity on medicinal marijuana

Dancers prepare at a pro-cannabis rally in California

Dancers prepare at a pro-cannabis rally in California

2 weeks ago, medicinal marijuana users celebrated 15 years of Proposition 215, the law legalizing therapeutic use of cannabis in California. The law allows patients in possession of a prescription to grow their own medicine or designate a legal grower (also known as a caregiver) to grow it for them, according to California state law.

Federal law, meanwhile, still does not recognize the therapeutic applications of cannabis, and logically the state laws can not override national laws. Since 1996, however, thousands of clinics have opened across the Golden State.  This  was not accomplished without legal difficulties and not all the dispensaries have remained open, but despite the paradox in legislation, the state’s entrepreneurs still managed to establish an industry of cannabis in California that is now estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Local economy at risk

Given the very special status of the plant at federal and international levels, the medical cannabis industry in California is exclusively local, from production to distribution. For years the federal government has been trying to destabilize this market by various means.

On October 7th 2011, four District Attorneys in the Golden State claimed in a press conference that their goal was to address the production, distribution and marketing of cannabis in California. Shortly after, they sent dispensary owners an injunction to close their shops within 45 days.

Since then, the IRS has decided to claim retroactive taxes from the dispensaries in addition to new taxes on the sales of something that is still an illegal substance at a national level. This use of the tax system to put an end to an industry that seems to bother Washington is eerily reminiscent of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which taxed cannabis suppliers all over America.

Even the banks are threatened with charges of money laundering if they agree to open accounts for business people  involved in the thriving Californian economy  of producing and distributing medical marijuana!

Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries targeted

The legal status of dispensaries is comparable to the Dutch coffeeshop system, with one major difference: dispensaries go against American national policy, whereas coffeeshops have been licensed by the Dutch government. Some Californian cannabis clinics have become essential businesses for their local economy thanks to local taxes, while the federal government prefers not to touch a dime of this revenue.

It is these medicinal cannabis dispensaries which are the target of the Obama administration.  A complaint has been  filed by a group of activists and lawyers to stop this crusade against the clinics, targeting the Attorney General of the United States, the director of the DEA Michelle Leonard and the four District Attorneys who acted without authorization from their supervisors.

A confrontation between Washington and L.A?

Cannabis in California

Cannabis in California

The current situation creates a schism between local power and federal power. California’s economy is the eighth largest in the world, and cannabis in California allows the Golden State to prosper at the expense of the federal government and its repressive policies.

Californians have recently re-elected their former Governor and Attorney General Jerry Brown, who has always supported medical marijuana, and has even introduced legislation to improve the legal status of patients with prescriptions for cannabis. He also proposed that the distribution should be taken care of by non-profit organizations.

The support from Governor Brown, the complaint filed against representatives of the federal government and the choice of the people at the polls are all clear indicators of opposition to the policies of the federal government.

All that remains to be seen is how much wider the divide between state and federal law will be allowed to grow before one of the two sides makes a decisive move on the future of cannabis in California.








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