Cannabis policies in the Netherlands, what went wrong?

2 08 2012

ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE

AUGUST 2012

The last major change in Dutch drug policy was in 1976, when new legislation established a distinction between soft and hard drugs, and decriminalised possession and sales of small amounts of cannabis by and to adults. At first cannabis only became available on special occasions and in popular youth centres like Paradiso and the Milky Way in Amsterdam. Later, cannabis promotors understood that the new legislation allowed for the sales of small quantities for personal use in café-like places: the “coffeeshops” emerged. In the course of the years the government installed a system of regulation, with most of the day to day decisions taken by local authorities, nicknamed the Triangle: mayor, district attorney and chief of police.

Since then, hundreds of coffeeshops came into existence and did good business. In the early years after 1976, it gradually became clear that although the use of cannabis increased, it remained near to or below the EU average, which also increased.

During the last ten years, however, the political climate gradually changed to a stricter prohibitionist approach. Successive governments strongly increased and hardened the enforcement of the ban on growing cannabis, which had been loosened somewhat when the policy was still directed at normalisation, to allow supply to the coffeeshops.Dutch Coffeeshop sign

On the moment this is written, the Dutch government is preparing a range of measures that will make the functioning of the coffeeshops more difficult. Coffeeshops must be turned into closed clubs with less than 2000 members, and be open only to Dutch and foreign citizens living in the Netherlands. Only customers provided with a club-pass will be allowed in. The distance between coffeeshops and schools will be enlarged to 350 m. And finally, cannabis with a higher content of THC than 15% will be considered a hard drug, which means that the ‘gedoogbeleid’, policy of toleration, no longer applies. These measures which can only render the management of coffeeshops more difficult, and eventually impossible.

One of the governing parties, the Christian Democratic party, openly says its long term objective is to close the coffeeshops, whereas the larger conservative liberal party VVD is unclear about its final objectives. It claims only to want to restore security and to prevent nuisance from foreign visitors to coffeeshops. The populist, anti-immigration and anti-Islam party PVV, led by Geert Wilders, is in favour of a harder approach, even when the leader of the first populist Dutch party, the murdered Pim Fortuyn, has always been completely open about his conviction that all drugs must be legally regulated.

The one big difference between the Netherlands and the rest of the world still remains, allowing sales of small amounts of cannabis to adults, without risk of juridical problems for the buyers. For the rest, Dutch drug policy has been largely similar to that of other EU countries, which includes an early embrace of Harm Reduction policies.

 

No gram without the passSince the start of the coffeeshop-experiment, NL has encountered a series of international attacks on this policy. These criticisms came from individual countries, and never resulted in a concerted and well founded action within the United Nations or the European Union, not even when the INCB regularly and stereotypically criticized Dutch cannabis policy in their yearly reports. Supporters of Dutch cannabis policy interpreted this as a consequence of the positive statistics about use levels of cannabis and other drugs in the Netherlands, and of the absence of arguments for stricter application of prohibition.

The fact that since 1976, the level of use of cannabis in the Netherlands has risen in a similar way as in the surrounding countries (see the yearly reports of the EMCDDA, of the Netherlands Trimbos Institute, of the EC Report Reuter-Trautmann) should have been interpreted as evidence that the complete prohibition that still was strictly enforced almost everywhere else, has not led to lower levels of use, and consequently, is not necessary. Already around 1995, the Netherlands could – and should – have argued at the UN and the EU, with the support of many years of statistical data, that the levels of use, abuse, and problematic use of cannabis in the Netherlands remained fairly constant at the average level of the EU. This should have led to a review of the international drug conventions, because their basic assumption, that prohibition is necessary to protect public and individual health from drugs, had been falsified by the Dutch experience with the coffeeshops.

Successive Dutch governments have not dared to take that path, but instead, asked the EU member states half-heartedly whether they had an interest to follow the Dutch coffeeshops-example. To this the unsurprising reactions were either silence or “No interest”.

Very gradually, the situation worsened, not with respect to public health, but in two other areas. In the Dutch border regions considerable tourism has arisen, not only from Belgium and Germany but also from countries farther away, France, Italy and others. The resulting nuisance however needed not necessarily to be seen as a reason for measures restricting the access to coffeeshops by foreigners. It can successfully be managed by practical measures such as have been taken by the city of Venlo on the German border, where two coffeeshops were transferred to a deserted parking lot for trucks, close to the border and to the Autobahn from the heavily populated Ruhr area.

Indoor cannabis grow-roomThe second problem area is cannabis production which remained illegal after the decriminalisation reform of 1976. Since 2000 the government has increased and hardened the enforcement of the – still existing – ban on growing cannabis, under the pretense that most of this was meant for export and not for our own coffeeshops. Only estimates were available for this claim, which started to have a life of its own. In the media there was more attention for the increasing criminality on the cannabis growth market, and less efforts to explain that this was a direct consequence of the official decision to crack down on the supply side.

One of the interesting aspects of decriminalisation is that few problems need to arise when the supply side is left in peace. This can even be seen in the famous American TV series ‘The Wire’ about the drug market in Baltimore. When the justice system is not agressively trying to “fight” or “tackle” drugs, the grey/black market can smoothly perform its function: the production and distribution of cannabis, only without the guarantees for quality that should be required.

However, an unavoidable and ultimately seriously problematic aspect of a policy that is limited to decriminalising possession for personal use is that everything else remains illegal. This means that large amounts of money are made in the growth and retail businesses that operate in the grey/black area. When the Dutch government gradually increased and hardened its enforcement policy, this set in motion a concurring hardening and professionalisation of the supply side. The result is not that less cannabis is available, but that more serious violence and other criminality occurs, which now is taken up as arguments for a harder policy.

The lesson is that decriminalisation can be useful for the short term, in the first phase of a transition to full legal regulation. The time span this gives can be used constructively for devising the necessary regulations without producing new and unnecessary problems. When decriminalisation stays on for too long, and is not logically converted into legal regulation of the complete cannabis market, the illegality of the supply side will cause serious problems that will threaten the whole system and lead to a return to the pre-Harm Reduction era.

This was already mentioned in the Canadian Report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs “Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy” published in 2002. By its thorough investigation the Senate Committee gained the understanding that decriminalisation (also named depenalisation) is not preferable to legal regulation, because decriminalisation combines the disadvantages of both systems. The Dutch experience confirms this position, especially in the long run.

We still hope that reason will return to our politicians, so they will finally arrange for a legally regulated cannabis market.

By Fredrick Polak

Via: ENCOD





The Cannabis Culture Awards 2012 – opening the debate about cannabis

15 05 2012

Cannabis Culture Award winner 2012 Thorvald Stoltenberg:

‘Hope is almost as important as life itself’

During a festive and moving ceremony, the Cannabis Culture Awards 2012 were awarded on April 26th in Amsterdam. Two former statesmen, Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, former minister of Defense of Norway and Mr. Dries van Agt, former Prime minister of the Netherlands, expressed their hope for a future without cannabis prohibition. ‘Hope is almost as important as life itself’, said Stoltenberg, after accepting the Cannabis Culture Award on behalf of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Read more

Here is a short video report of the Award ceremony:





Over medicated America – a few figures to understand why cannabis is still illegal

9 02 2012

Here’s a chart that puts into simple words and figures a system that shows no benefits:
Overmedicated America
Created by: Medical Billing and Coding Online

What this work prove is that profit is more important to the people in charge of the health system than the health of the people that generate their profits.

Just over a week ago the FDA pushed to approve a skin cancer treatment when side effects are varied and numerous, while Cannabis Science is publishing more case studies where patients actually get rid of their cancer.

If such a powerful institution supports a drug with a list of side effects that can all be treated, as well as the ailment itself, by a safer alternative, how can people keep on trusting them and allow them to behave like that?





Cannabis in California: A local and federal divide

1 12 2011

The recent history of cannabis in California  demonstrates a split between state and federal law that is rapidly widening. The first U.S. state to have, in 1913, prohibited the use of the devil’s herb imported by Mexican immigrants that was “marijuana”, California was also the first to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis in 1996.

15 years of legal ambiguity on medicinal marijuana

Dancers prepare at a pro-cannabis rally in California

Dancers prepare at a pro-cannabis rally in California

2 weeks ago, medicinal marijuana users celebrated 15 years of Proposition 215, the law legalizing therapeutic use of cannabis in California. The law allows patients in possession of a prescription to grow their own medicine or designate a legal grower (also known as a caregiver) to grow it for them, according to California state law.

Federal law, meanwhile, still does not recognize the therapeutic applications of cannabis, and logically the state laws can not override national laws. Since 1996, however, thousands of clinics have opened across the Golden State.  This  was not accomplished without legal difficulties and not all the dispensaries have remained open, but despite the paradox in legislation, the state’s entrepreneurs still managed to establish an industry of cannabis in California that is now estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Local economy at risk

Given the very special status of the plant at federal and international levels, the medical cannabis industry in California is exclusively local, from production to distribution. For years the federal government has been trying to destabilize this market by various means.

On October 7th 2011, four District Attorneys in the Golden State claimed in a press conference that their goal was to address the production, distribution and marketing of cannabis in California. Shortly after, they sent dispensary owners an injunction to close their shops within 45 days.

Since then, the IRS has decided to claim retroactive taxes from the dispensaries in addition to new taxes on the sales of something that is still an illegal substance at a national level. This use of the tax system to put an end to an industry that seems to bother Washington is eerily reminiscent of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which taxed cannabis suppliers all over America.

Even the banks are threatened with charges of money laundering if they agree to open accounts for business people  involved in the thriving Californian economy  of producing and distributing medical marijuana!

Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries targeted

The legal status of dispensaries is comparable to the Dutch coffeeshop system, with one major difference: dispensaries go against American national policy, whereas coffeeshops have been licensed by the Dutch government. Some Californian cannabis clinics have become essential businesses for their local economy thanks to local taxes, while the federal government prefers not to touch a dime of this revenue.

It is these medicinal cannabis dispensaries which are the target of the Obama administration.  A complaint has been  filed by a group of activists and lawyers to stop this crusade against the clinics, targeting the Attorney General of the United States, the director of the DEA Michelle Leonard and the four District Attorneys who acted without authorization from their supervisors.

A confrontation between Washington and L.A?

Cannabis in California

Cannabis in California

The current situation creates a schism between local power and federal power. California’s economy is the eighth largest in the world, and cannabis in California allows the Golden State to prosper at the expense of the federal government and its repressive policies.

Californians have recently re-elected their former Governor and Attorney General Jerry Brown, who has always supported medical marijuana, and has even introduced legislation to improve the legal status of patients with prescriptions for cannabis. He also proposed that the distribution should be taken care of by non-profit organizations.

The support from Governor Brown, the complaint filed against representatives of the federal government and the choice of the people at the polls are all clear indicators of opposition to the policies of the federal government.

All that remains to be seen is how much wider the divide between state and federal law will be allowed to grow before one of the two sides makes a decisive move on the future of cannabis in California.





Mystery Marijuana Plane Lands in Houston

25 11 2011

Monday, November 20, at the Executive Airport in Houston, Texas, a small aircraft failed to answer calls from the control tower, leaving them in the fog…

After landing with the wind behind it, the small twin-engine plane skidded off the track ending up with its nose in the grass.

Cannabis smuggling plane

The plane that landed full of marijuana at Houston Executive Airport

The radio remained silent.

When the airport authorities arrived at the plane, it was empty. Well, almost empty since inside was 45kg of cannabis, which may explain why the plane ended its course well off the runway.

It wasn’t the weed holding the joystick, and any experienced pilot will tell you that only someone as high as a kite would make a landing like that – or a complete novice.

The authorities are still looking for an unidentified suspect, seen running away from the plane by some witnesses.

The aircraft was recently sold at auction after the death of the previous owner, and since then has not been officially re-registered. Investigators hope to track the new owner with the help of the previous owner’s relatives.

Source: The Huffington Post





Copenhagen plans for legal cannabis!

24 11 2011

Copenhagen aerial byThe Copenhagen City Council want (yet again) take control of the Danish marijuana market! A market with an annual worth of 1.5 billion kroner, or 200 million euros.
Copenhagen Social Affairs Head Councillor Mikkel Warming said the new proposal is to completely legalize the sale of cannabis, in contrast to the Dutch model which tolerates but doesn’t control or regulate sales, and makes no provision for production or supply of cannabis to coffeeshops. The Danish capital sees the paradox in this approach – it’s hard not to – and instead plans to legalize and regulate the entire process.

” Who is it better for youngsters to buy marijuana from?”

They want to create stores where vendors are not interested in making money, but in their customers, Mikkel said. ” Who is it better for youngsters to buy marijuana from? A drug pusher, who wants them to use more, who wants them to buy hard drugs, or a civil servant?”

Turning ‘going to score drugs’ into something as exciting as visiting a council-run café should also deter adolescents from beginning to use cannabis while still too young, although this hasn’t been mentioned by the Head Councillor.

The council voted on the proposal, with the support of Mayor Frank Jensen, on Thursday 17th November 2011 and it was approved by a significant majority: 39 votes in favour and only 9 against. The next step is the creation of a committee to explore possible ways to legalize and control the sale of cannabis in state-run shops or cafés.
Their findings will then be presented to the Danish parliament, which currently seems more open to finding a better approach to cannabis than a prohibitionist, outdated, and inefficient system.

The Danish capital has actually hosted an alternative since 1971 as it is home to Christiania, a neighborhood with a self-proclaimed independent status where the sale of marijuana and hash takes place daily. Christiania’s famous ‘Pusher Street’ could soon become a lot quieter if the civil servants do decide to corner the Danish cannabis market!





The Dutch government presents: The Weedpass

18 11 2011

As of January 1, 2012, the weedpass will be introduced, bringing a new wave of street dealers, more accessible hard drugs and increased health risks! It’s already happening in the South regions of the Netherlands! Brought to you by the Dutch government.
Maastricht: 28 days later …Maastricht

Less than a month after the introduction of the weedpass in the city of Maastricht, a Belgian journalist has reported the effects that many people (including experts) predicted: a revival of the black market in the capital of Limburg. The weedpass prevents anyone not of Belgian, Dutch or German nationality from entering coffeeshops and safely buying cannabis.

Street dealers now invite tourists discriminated against by the weedpass, mainly the French, to come and buy cannabis in apartments. Often this is a scam to sell poor quality marijuana at high prices. Large scale organized crime operations, which also provide marijuana to coffeeshops, make a double killing by offering other drugs such as LSD, Ecstasy or speed to tourists who are just looking for cannabis. The overall price of cannabis is increasing, including in the coffeeshops, because the unregulated black market causes an increase in demand. As a consequence some tourists resort to products which (although nothing like cannabis) are authorized for sale, such as hallucinogenic truffles, freely sold in smartshops to everyone, regardless of nationality.

The weedpass is a massive blow to the local economy

Many critics have also focused on the economic impact of such a measure. A study commissioned by the VOCM (Official Club Maastricht Coffeeshops ) reported figures that should make the city council think twice. The study, reported by De Telegraaf, found that the pass will cost 30 million euros to the city of Maastricht alone, and mean the loss of 345 full-time jobs! In the end the only real winners in this story are the criminals who see an exploding market opening up while honest workers lose their jobs, and suffer the consequences of the decisions of their elected representatives.

An expected and tangible effect of the weedpass

In just one month, many of the negative effects of the weedpass predicted by the experts are proven verifiable. The black market re-emerges into the open with dealers and drug touts even more determined to provide for the tourists who, thanks to the weedpass, are now forced into obtaining cannabis illegally.

The experts may have given good objective advice on the issue, but the government continues to ignore them. The Dutch Parliament (Tweede Kamer) will vote this month on an amendment to the Opium Act, giving individual area councils the power to override the rules of the Opium Act and bring in stricter regulations of their own. This measure, intended to continue the current policy of reducing harm associated with drug tourism, will only increase the problems for tourists and residents alike.

Although the positive effects of the tolerance policy are well established, the Dutch government is bending to the will of fellow European countries and becoming more intolerant by the day. This direction is already causing more problems in Maastricht than it might solve. What the government should be doing is putting pressure on fellow countries to adopt a policy proven to work: the provision of safe, regulated places for adults to buy and consume cannabis without discrimination.

 

Sources: De Telegraaf Limburger Contrepoints








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