There is a small neighborhood in Copenhagen, Denmark that has existed since 1971 named Christiania. Christiania is also known by locals and tourists alike as “Freetown.” Hundreds of thousands of curious sightseers visit each year; it has become the fourth most popular tourist attraction in all of Copenhagen. Freetown has existed as a semi-autonomous community that doesn’t rely on the societal benefits of the City of Copenhagen. This means that the Christiania community is self-reliant in producing its own electricity, providing education for its youth and self-policing the community.
This unique social construct allowed for a unique freedom that was, for the most part, tolerated by the city of Copenhagen, an open air cannabis and hash market known as Pusher Street. The unwritten rule was that the police force of Copenhagen would turn a blind eye to the sale and use of soft drugs, such as cannabis and hash, so long as the Christiania community didn’t allow the sale or presence of harder drugs. Pusher Street was a place where the citizens of Copenhagen and tourists alike could purchase and openly use cannabis and hash. This environment created some issues with drug smuggling and organized crime, which was made evident by the occasional golden crescent moon symbol found on blocks of hash being sold at the market.
The tolerance towards Pusher Street changed drastically on August 31, 2016 after a dealer, Mesa Hodzic, shot two police officers and a bystander. A manhunt for Hodzic ensued that resulted in a shootout and the subsequent death of Hodzic. While none of Hodzic’s victims died, one of the police officers faced life-threatening injuries. This had a dramatic effect on the people of Copenhagen, where the rate of violent crime is very low and deaths of police officers while serving in the line of duty are rare; the last death of this type occurred in 1995.
In response to this crime, the tolerance of the police, and Copenhagen at large, lessened drastically towards Christiania and especially Pusher Street. Subsequently, the citizens of Christiania made the decision to disassemble Pusher Street from Freetown. On September 2, 2016, the stalls that were used to sell cannabis and hash were deconstructed. The voluntary deconstruction of Pusher Street has had a number of consequences.
A positive response to the deconstruction has been vocal support from the government that the free spirit of Christiania should not be trampled. Local law enforcement has united in supporting and respecting the self-policing of the Christiania community. The continued tolerance of the Danish government is precarious at best, and the future of Christiania is still to be seen.
As a consequence of the closure of Pusher Street, Copenhagen residents are left wondering where and when the purchase of cannabis will resume. This leads to the fear that the cannabis sales will be filled by local gangs, further increasing the possibility of violence and criminal activity within the city. While Pusher Street was never fully legal, it still provided a safe environment for purchasing cannabis.
The future of Freetown Christiania is uncertain, but what is clear is that there has been an end of an era—one where cannabis sales and consumption were tolerated in a unique enclave of freedom.