As Justice Minister between 1996 and 2001, Frank Jensen opposed legalising cannabis. But after becoming Lord Mayor of Copenhagen in 2010, he changed his mind, arguing that legalising cannabis could both reduce gang crime and raise money for the state.
Jensen explains why he still supports the measure and why despite the increase in gang crime, there are reasons to be hopeful.
In 2012, you held a conference to develop a Copenhagen Model for legal cannabis. Do you still believe that gang activity can be reduced by legalising cannabis?
We are currently in the midst of a gang war with crazy shootings taking place on the street that have targeted innocent people. We cannot solve this immediate conflict by legalising cannabis. What we need right here and now is for our police to accomplish the enormous task of getting the gangs off the city streets.
Having said that, I still believe that legalising cannabis would remove a significant contributing factor behind the gang rivalry. And if we can bring the open conflict to an end by taking the cannabis market from the criminal underworld, then I’m willing to try it.
I have repeatedly called on the government to introduce a trial legalisation of cannabis, most recently in December last year. We are currently enabling a billion-kroner market to be run as an underground economy by hardened criminals. If we can make as much money as the criminal underworld does through legalisation, then we must try it. I was once an opponent of legalisation, but I can now see that prohibition has not solved the problem.
Are you concerned that a trial legalisation of cannabis could increase the number of users, and only push the activity of gangs toward harder crime?
In places that have tried the legalisation of cannabis, such as some US states, the evidence does not suggest that it results in more users. But we must of course pay attention to whether legalisation actually takes the illegal market away from gangs, and whether it results in more users. This is why I want to start with a trial legalisation of cannabis, so that we can better understand the consequences and make a decision on an informed basis.
What other thoughts and ideas do you have to address the increase in gang crime?
Despite the rise of gang crime, youth crime has been falling in recent years. We have had a strong focus on preventing and fighting youth crime through security partnerships and social workers that visit at-risk youth in their homes, as well as exit programmes that help gang members put their criminal lives behind them. We are doubling down on this effort with more social workers that will intervene at an even earlier stage by visiting a youth’s family if they are getting into bad company.
But with the level of conflict that we are currently experiencing due to the gang war, it is the role of the police to put the gangs under constant pressure. The police have already established stop-and-search zones and mobile police stations, as well as increasing their visibility in areas affected by shootings. In a series of raids, they have arrested a number of gang members, including the leader of Loyal to Familia.
We are now seeing results in the form of confiscated weapons and the arrest of gang members. That is what is needed. They must be sentenced and taken off the streets to prevent them from carrying out insane shootings that affect innocent Copenhageners. M