Christiania’s Fatal Shooting And The Future Of Cannabis In Copenhagen
3 min

Christiania’s Fatal Shooting And The Future Of Cannabis In Copenhagen

3 min

In Christiania, Denmark, after a shoot-out between a known drug dealer and police officers, cannabis-friendly residents have decided that the unregulated drug market in their midst needs to end.

“Pusher Street” in Christiania, a semi-autonomous cannabis hippy haven in the middle of Copenhagen, is struggling with its identity right now as one of the most pot-friendly enclaves in any European city outside of Amsterdam.

On August 31, a known drug dealer went on a shooting spree after police attempted to arrest him, wounding three people, including two police officers in the process. He later died from his wounds in a local hospital after engaging in a shootout before his eventual capture. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, residents themselves began to dismantle the huts and stalls that had become a regular feature of Christiania’s drug accepting culture and its highly profitable, high profile if not strictly legit hash and cannabis market.


Starting about 40 years ago, residents of the neighbourhood who often sold cannabis and hash to other city residents and an increasing number of out-of-town tourists in an area that became known as Pusher Street. It led to the “town” - as it is known to locals – to becoming Copenhagen’s fourth most popular tourist destination, attracting half a million visitors a year. The area was originally an abandoned military ground, but was repopulated by squatters in 1971. It then began developing into its own little community. Since 1989, the neighbourhood has been governed by the so-called Christiania Law, transferring parts of its supervision from the municipality of Copenhagen to the state, which owns the former base. In this haven, cannabis sale became acceptable, allowing trade to flourish.

The pro-cannabis “freedom” adopted by residents is thought to generate as much as $150 million a year from cannabis and hash sales in the booths set up in the area, according to police estimates. For a long time, it has remained a friendly, genuine place. However more recently, outside dealers and organized crime have moved into the territory to take advantage of the independent community’s liberal approach to hash and cannabis. In the aftermath of the shooting, however, residents of Christiania have apparently had a change of heart about the drug trade in their midst, even if they still remain strongly pro-legalization.

“Let’s be clear: Christiania is still for the legalization of cannabis,” said neighbourhood spokesperson Risenga Manghezi. “But as the situation is now, with ever-increasing violence, we do not want it here anymore.”

In a press release, residents echoed the same sentiment. "Christiania cannot take responsibility for housing all of Denmark’s cannabis trade," they wrote. "We can remove the stalls but we can’t ensure that they don’t come back. We need all of Denmark’s help for that. If you support Christiania, stop buying your cannabis here."


European countries are, like the U.S., Canada, and Australia, in the midst of a heated debate about the legalization of cannabis, and for what purpose. Legalization appears to be, for the most part, on a sturdier and more accepted track for medical rather than recreational purposes in the short term here in the EU. Germany, which is expected to lead the way on integrating medical use into the country’s health system next year, is unlikely to move forward on recreational legalization reform in the near future. Federal leaders also seem firm in this resolve, despite at least four cities in the country, from Bremen to Berlin having pro-legalization mayors who are pushing the envelope, if not discussion.

In fact, civic leaders in cities all over the EU will not let the topic out of the room. Legalization and the regulation of the industry in some ways are also often supported by the police, who are frustrated with spending countless if not fruitless hours trying to shut down mobile drug markets and sellers – only for them to reappear on the streets shortly after their arrests or are just replaced by others.

In Denmark, where any kind of reform is the purview of the federal government, national leaders are remarkably resistant to change drug laws despite what is going on in local communities, if not the rest of the world. This is further complicated by the implications of voices out of Brussels. As a member of the European Parliament, former Danish prime minister Helle Thorne-Schmidt supported legalization in the form of a regulated recreational system (a coffee shop structure akin to the Netherlands) before reversing course in national office.

While policy changes in Copenhagen in the aftermath of the Christiania shootings are impossible to predict, it is also clear that the topic of cannabis legalization will not go away anytime soon. In Europe or anywhere else. Even the beleaguered residents of Christiania are the first to admit that.


The American model of state legalisation is sometimes pointed to as a precursor of likely reform in Europe, although even that is not a given or ready blueprint. In every U.S. state where recreational legalization has occurred, medical reform has happened first, every single time. The difference in Europe is the existence of highly liberal enclaves, from Spain to Germany, where traditionally super liberal groups have fought to establish independent communities where drug use and sales are if not strictly legit, but tolerated by residents. The drug war was also never as deliberately fought here. And the state medical and social systems are also much stronger.

As a result, reform in Europe may continue to be an odd patchwork of reform and repression, although like the U.S. the issue of medical use is a looming green elephant in every legislative “living room”. Once that occurs on a federal level, systematic recreational markets are sure to follow, and sooner rather than later.


Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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