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Hundreds of supporters of legalising cannabis participated in a demonstration and march in central Copenhagen on a day that it is an unofficial holiday of sorts for smokers around the world.
Written the American way, April 20 is 4/20, a popular shorthand term for smoking marijuana and a day that has become a rallying cry for cannabis supporters.
In central Copenhagen, '420 Cannabis Day: Retten til et fri valg' (The right to a free choice), was organised by Khodr ‘Cutter’ Mehri, a vocal advocate of legalising cannabis who last year opened an Amsterdam-style 'coffee shop' that was shut down after nine months.
Mehri, who was recently released from jail after serving 24 days for an arrest on drug selling charges, told The Copenhagen Post that it is important for marijuana smokers be public about their use and their support for changing Denmark's current laws.
That, he said, was why he led the demonstration on a march from the town hall square, Rådhuspladsen, around Kongens Nytorv and back.
"It's important to be out and be seen," he said. "If other Danes, and tourists, see that many people openly support cannabis, then they might go home and think it is okay to smoke it tonight."
About 1,800 people signed up for the event on Facebook, and Mehri said he was very happy with the turnout though he wished that more "closet smokers" would have come out. He estimated the crowd at around 500, while a Copenhagen Police officer providing traffic support guessed the crowd at slightly over 300.
Participants tout legalisation
One of the marchers was 28-year-old Maria Pedersen, who said that, even though she had chosen not to smoke cannabis today because of plans later in the evening, she supports legalisation.
"If it was controlled and regulated, people could get a healthier and cleaner product," she said. "I think it would also cut down on violence - both the gang violence that goes with the illegal drug trade and the more casual violence from those who go out drinking. There would be a lot fewer fights if people could get legally stoned."
For David, a participant in a 'Cannabis = Medicine" t-shirt who did not want to provide his last name, the event was about free choice and promoting the various uses of cannabis.
"I believe that everybody should have a right to smoke it if they want to, but marijuana is also a plant with many medical and practical purposes. Hemp is a very eco-friendly and low-cost alternative for making clothing, animal feed, fuel and even homes."
He pointed to the success of hemp houses in South Africa, where according to a 2011 Associated Press report, entrepreneurs using a mix of hemp and lime have found success in building sustainable housing.
Nikolai Henriksen, 32, also pointed to the many uses of a plant that he said is misunderstood.
"The demonisation of cannabis has contributed greatly to this world's addiction to fossil fuels," Henriksen said. "The real 'green' solution is marijuana."
Henriksen, who will be seeking a place on the ballot in autumn's local elections representing the pro-cannabis Hampepartiet Frederiksberg, said the plant's most well-known use is also beneficial.
"Smoking cannabis frees people up somehow so that they can relax and enjoy the day instead of running around dealing with their jobs and everyday stress."
Deputy mayor asks for support
After the 90-minute parade through the city, Copenhagen's deputy mayor for social affairs, Mikkel Warming (Enhdeslisten), spoke to the crowd about the city's efforts to legalise cannabis for a three-year trial period. Warming, along with a majority on the City Council, are pushing for legalisation by arguing that it would take the estimated one billion annual kroner generated by the illegal cannabis trade out of the hands of gangs.
"It's a lot of money and the gangs are so happy to have that money that they have begun shooting people in our streets for it," Warming said. "We think it is time to think differently."
Warming said that besides the gang violence, the current cannabis laws also slap unnecessary punishments on regular people who choose to smoke cannabis.
"Prohibition has criminalised a lot of people who aren't doing anything particularly bad," he said.
He added that he would rather that his 12-year-old daughter, if she were to become curious about marijuana one day, be able to buy the drug in a controlled environment.
"Prohibition creates insecurity because the many people who smoke cannabis are forced to interact with people who don't wish them well and want to sell them other, more dangerous substances,” Warming said. He added, however, that smoking too much cannabis, just like drinking too much beer or whisky, can be dangerous.
Although Warming and his cohorts on City Council support legalisation, and recently held a high-profile cannabis conference, efforts to get the national government to approve legalisation have yet to bear fruit.
But with a majority of city councillors from Mayor Frank Jensen's Socialdemorkaterne (S) party having formally adopted cannabis legalisation as a campaign plank, they will continue to apply pressure to national S leaders, including PM Helle Thorning-Schimdt and Justice Minister Morten Bødskov.
Warming encouraged the large crowd that marched past Christiansborg earlier in the day to push MPs to support the city's plan.
“If, against all of our expectations, the trial doesn’t work, we can always give all the money and cannabis back to the gangs after three years,” he said. “But I think it will work.”
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