“Everybody must get stoned.” 1966 Bob Dylan Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.
“Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.” 1967 Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?
Without any foresight or intention in my travels for 2015 I found myself in several places in both North America and Europe with a highly tolerant attitude to cannabis. A liberal attitude to drugs is commonplace in Amsterdam and Copenhagen for many decades. There are spaces in these two cities where cannabis commerce is allowed to operate as business entities, even if technically there are national drugs policies in place generally prohibiting drugs, including cannabis.
North America is still in the infancy of developing regulation on cannabis policies. The main difference for a place like Colorado, where cannabis is legal to buy, and Amsterdam or Copenhagen, where cannabis is technically illegal, yet sold openly in places, is Colorado has few places to smoke cannabis without it being illegal consumption, if you don’t have access to a private residence.
Amsterdam and Copenhagen have places where smoking cannabis is allowed. Vancouver, Canada has a tolerant policy as the cannabis culture in the Pacific Northwest is experiencing a ‘green’ rush in the past couple of years with an Amsterdam coffeeshop culture beginning to emerge. Amsterdam is old-time business-oriented and established cannabis culture, although experiencing one of the most restrictive regulatory periods over the past decade compared to its decades old history of cannabis tolerance.
Christiania in urban Copenhagen is a more freewheelin’ Copenhagen dealin’ kind of space.
All Along the Watchtower
On my first night in Paris at the end of September I walked to Sacre Coeur at Montmartre. The place was a party zone with a hundred or more people sitting on the different levels of terraced steps around the park, drinking, smoking. Somewhere in the distance a guitar player sang All Along the Watchtower.
Dylan and Hendrix were there in Montmartre on the bluff high over Paris. Their musical spirit rocks so many places I travel.
Rolling Rock store in medieval sector of Clermont-Ferrand, France.
Bob Dylan’s image seen in poster high on the wall inside beneath the space in the store sign Rolling Rock words. Poster in bottom right corner is Jimi Hendrix concert in Copenhagen September 3, 1970.
Rock music transcends borders and nationalities.
So does hash and weed.
Good Trips in 2015
Good Trips bongs in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
Denver, Colorado has numerous cannabis shops where you can legally buy weed, nearly two years after legalizing it. High prices are the shock factor. Competition and supply chains should reduce the cost over time. But the place has a significant pot tourism problem. You can legally buy weed, but you can’t smoke it in public and there are no authorized places to smoke, except in privately owned residences and places.
In April 2015 I found myself at Vancouver 420 on April 20. The event was unfettered free market cannabis capitalism with an all-day live music and intermittent political rally. Lots of free cannabis samples being passed out and the message was repeated throughout the day that Vancouver has the lowest cannabis prices in North America. More than 20,000 people descended on Robson Square. An entire city downtown urban block in Vancouver, for one-day-only on April 20, the police were on stand by as major dealing of cannabis happened openly from morning to 8pm at night. Robson Square was along the route I walked to the Hyatt Regency Vancouver that day, totally unaware beforehand that hundreds of vendors had packed in thousands of bags and jars of weed, parked their tables, tents, carts and backpacks around Robson Square and the Vancouver Art gallery all day long on April 20 for a day of deals and entertainment.
Photos from Vancouver 420 on April 20, 2015.
The newspaper and television stories following the event indicated that 2015 Vancouver420 was the largest cannabis event in the city’s history by far and it might be time to tighten the noose around the ‘free-for-all weed in public’ exhibition party. At the very least, the Vancouver420 location will not be outside the Vancouver Art Gallery complex in 2016, prominently in the center of downtown Vancouver.
Loyalty Traveler – 420 Vancouver Experienced (April 21, 2015)
Copenhagen is similar to Amsterdam in several respects.
Copenhagen and Amsterdam both experienced major city development in the early 1600s which shapes their modern urban environment today. Amsterdam is architecturally unique with its merchant houses of the Canal Ring.
Amsterdam Canal Ring is four concentric canals originally designed to create an artificial port city in one of the most advanced schemes of urban development to that date. Canal construction 1613-1625 created the original design for the Amsterdam port canals in the northwest sector and by the late 1600s the southern sectors established a planned central city design that is recognized today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Amsterdam was a wealthy city for merchants and craftsmen in the early global trade markets developed in the late 16th/early 17th centuries. Copenhagen had a similar role for northern Baltic Europe.
Copenhagen benefited from an influx of refugees fleeing Amsterdam and the Spanish Netherlands during the Eighty Years War 1568-1648 with Spain, also called the Dutch War of Independence.
Canal boat on Nyhavn Canal – Copenhagen, Denmark. Nyhavn Canal was constructed 1670-1673 during reign of Christian V.
Denmark’s longest reigning monarch Christian IV (1577-1648), ruler of Denmark-Norway, reshaped Copenhagen in the early 1600s with the construction of Rosenborg Castle and King’s Garden, the building of shipping canals around the city and construction of defensive fortifications resulting in Kastellet – The Citadel and Christianshavn ramparts to protect the inner canal ports of the island city.
Another piece of Nordic history is Christian IV renamed Oslo, Norway after himself as Christiania when he relocated and rebuilt the fjord harbor port after a devastating fire in 1624. Oslo was marked on maps as a city since 1050 and became the capital of Norway in 1299. The city name Oslo was revived only in 1925 after 300 years bearing the city name Christiania. That explains why I saw so many places in Oslo with Christiania in the name.
Civilized Capitalist Amsterdam Coffeeshops
Both Copenhagen and Amsterdam have places where vendors sell cannabis, mostly as weed and hash, with little restriction. Amsterdam is actually more restrictive in 2015 than it was a decade ago.
Amsterdam has coffeeshops. The whole process is very civilized and nonthreatening. Go inside, buy a drink, buy some weed or hash, smoke in the establishment while listening to music, playing games, conversing with people from many different places. There is a global chillage feel to relaxing inside an otherwise little café, the exception being most people are getting stoned while drinking their coffee, teas, juices and sodas. Periods of group quiet and soft conversation are balanced with periods of excessive laughter and hilarity with a musical backdrop beat. Alcohol is prohibited in Amsterdam coffeeshops. That is one of the regulatory changes in the past decade.
Coffeeshop menus in each place show the price for different kinds of marijuana and hash. There is no bartering. There is something like a 5-gram purchase limit at one time at a coffeeshop.
Freetown Christiania Copenhagen is a diamond in the rough
Christiania is an 84-acre neighborhood with park space in Copenhagen that operates somewhat as an autonomous commune within the urban city. The area was an abandoned military barracks in 1971 when squatters moved into the space. The fewer than 1,000 residents operate to a large degree as a self-governing commune.
This part of Copenhagen is historically another Christian IV project of defensive ramparts built around Christianshavn in 1617. The town of Christianshavn was a separate town from Copenhagen at the time. Today the area is still a different part of Copenhagen and sits on an island east of the main city. There are only two bridges connecting Christianshavn to downtown Copenhagen in the main tourist zone of the city.
View from Christianshavn bridge looking west to Copenhagen.
Christiania is easy to find with its location about 200 meters from the Spiral Church, a highly visible city landmark.
Freewheelin’ Copenhagen Dealin’ in the Green Light District
Christiania has been a space with a tolerant attitude to cannabis for more than 40 years. What is not tolerated are photos. I read news stories from the past few years about some visitors getting a beating for taking photographs of the Green Light District. Travel writer Rick Steves has some of the best photos I’ve seen of Christiania in this article – The alternative community of Christiania (August 5, 2015).
Signs warn visitors of three main rules when entering the space:
There are three rules in the green light district:
- Have Fun
- Don’t run – It causes panic
- No photos – Buying and Selling Hash is still illegal
Green Light District aka Pusher Street
“Pusher Street” in Christiania is an alley about 50 meters in length with established buildings and portable booths where weed and hash are sold. The street is covered with military camouflage netting and many of the stall vendors have their faces concealed behind a balaclava mask. The entire set-up is intimidating. The process of buying cannabis is not for the timid. Some places post prices, for others, it is a bartering deal.
The plus side of shady dealings with masked men in a public pedestrian-only road space is the price of hash at 50 to 80 DKK per gram ($7.50-$12.00/g) is typically less than the price of most tourist area Amsterdam coffeeshop prices. Pusher Alley is all very out in the open at street level all-day long and into the night.
Other stores in the immediate vicinity of Christiania sell pipes, bongs, papers, lighters, t-shirts, clothing, food and drinks.
Once you have a mental map of Christiania you learn how to avoid walking Pusher Street, if you don’t need to be there. Most of Christiania is not intimidating at all. The other 83.5 acres of Christiania are extremely laid back.
There are cafes in Christiania past the Green Light District where you can buy alcohol. The main difference between Christiania and Amsterdam is people gather all around in small groups and large groups in different places indoors and when the weather is good, more in the outdoor spaces across Christiania’s 84 acres. One of the main concert venues in Copenhagen is Nemoland, an open area with a stage, numerous cafes and seating for hundreds. Another major attraction within Christiania is the lake where people gather by the water and chill with cannabis, drink, food and music in a self-entertaining space occupied with many kinds of birds.
I have not been to Greenland, but I have sat at a table drinking beer when it was filled to capacity with ethnic Greenlanders not speaking English. I have sat beside the lake in Christiania listening to live reggae music from Nemoland carrying sounds through the air at night. I’ve seen a tightrope walker balance in air as I “walked upon the edge of no escape and laughed, I’ve lost control”.
Amsterdam coffeeshops are regulated businesses selling hash and weed and other drinks (non-alcohol) and food in a friendly café coffeeshop environment. Christiania has an alley lined with dealers offering hash and weed for sale at prices generally quite a bit lower than Amsterdam. The environment is a bit raw with the military style décor of camouflage netting over the street and balaclavas on many dealin’ faces. Amsterdam is certainly a more inviting environment. That being said, Christiania has raw power. People from many different places gather in the 84-acre space of Christiania. There are interesting encounters to have with people there or sit back, act mute and non-participatory and simply people watch. Christiania offers a Copenhagen haven for alternative encounters with the people and natural spaces surrounding you.