The municipality of Maastricht on the Dutch drug policy

25 06 2008

The municipality of Maastricht (city in the south of the Netherlands) have posted a very good article about the Dutch drug policy on their website. Click here to read the whole article.

The Netherlands’ policy is good for public health because it results in relatively few cannabis users and only a small percentage who switch to hard drugs. It is bad for society as a whole because production and distribution are in the hands of organised crime.

We can combat that by controlling not only the sale and consumption of cannabis, but also its cultivation and distribution, subject to strict conditions.

There is another factor to consider at local level, and particularly in border towns: the public nuisance caused by the many cannabis tourists from abroad. One solution is to shift the coffee shops to the access roads, in sparsely populated areas.

A policy of this kind would require the cooperation of neighbouring municipalities that do not currently have coffee shops within their boundaries (the coffee shops are all located in core municipalities, such as Maastricht). They are far from eager to have coffee shops nearby.

We understand that entirely, but the alternative is even worse:

1. If neighbouring municipalities do not cooperate, a city like Maastricht will reduce the number of coffee shops: just enough to keep its own inhabitants supplied. The market will not shrink, and it will therefore move to the surrounding municipalities.

2. If The Hague refuses to cooperate on controlling the “back door” (cultivation and distribution), Maastricht will have to find some other way of restoring the balance, the consistency of the policy. It can only do that by shutting down all the coffee shops. If the back door remains locked, the front door will eventually have to be locked as well.

The neighbouring municipalities will face even bigger problems then. We mustn’t kid ourselves that the demand for cannabis will fall.

The real victims in all this will be our young people. They will have to buy cannabis from serious criminals who will not hesitate to sell them hard drugs as well. That is what is happening right now in France, the UK, the USA and many other Western countries, where many more people use cannabis and hard drugs than in the Netherlands.

Strict control of both the front door and the back door and a sensible policy of dispersal are the best ways of ensuring the wellbeing of those who do and do not use cannabis.

But it’s a complete package, as we demonstrated earlier. Front door, back door and dispersal should all be combined in a single policy. Otherwise we will have to fall back on scenario 2, the current European model, which means more users, more people switching to hard drugs, more crime and greater damage to society.

Back in 1998, in a public letter addressed to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the renowned FBI crime-fighter Joseph McNamara and the Reagan Administration’s Secretary of State George Shultz drew what was, for them, a notable – in fact a bold – conclusion. But it was in fact a conclusion that we too could have reached long ago, if we had forced ourselves to look at the drug problem rationally instead of from a moral perspective. The letter, which was co-signed by former Dutch prime minister Andreas van Agt, states: “The global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself.”




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