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 Beatles call for the legalisation of marijuana

23 07 2012

9.00am, Monday 24 July 1967 (45 years ago)

The Beatles lighting up a smokeA full-page advertisement appeared in The Times newspaper on this day, signed by 64 of the most prominent members of British society, which called for the legalisation of marijuana. Among the signatories were The Beatles and Brian Epstein.

The advertisement was instigated as a response to the nine-month prison sentence for possession received on 1 June 1967 by John Hopkins, founder of International Times, the UFO Club and the 24 Hour Technicolour Dream. The following day an emergency meeting was held at the Indica Bookshop, during which Steve Abrams of drug-research organisation SOMA suggested bringing the issue into public debate by running a full-page advertisement.
Abrams agreed to organise the signatures, but the question of financing the advertisement proved temporarily problematic. None of The Beatles were present at the Indica, but the bookshop’s co-owner Barry Miles telephoned Paul McCartney, who agreed to finance the advertisement.

On 3 June Miles and Abrams visited McCartney’s house in Cavendish Avenue. McCartney listened to the plans, told Abrams that all The Beatles and Epstein would put their names to it, and told them how to contact the rest of the group for their signatures.

On 23 July, the day before publication, the ad was mentioned in The Sunday Times’ Atticus column, written by Philip Oates. Behind the scenes, however, The Times’ advertising manager, R Grant Davidson, nervously insisted on checking that all the people had indeed agreed for their names to be associated with the article.

Davidson also insisted on advance payment. Steve Abrams contacted Peter Brown at Brian Epstein’s office, and shortly afterwards received a personal cheque for £1,800 made out to The Times. At the time the amount was twice the average annual wage.

Although McCartney had wanted to keep the funding a secret, in fear of negative publicity, it soon proved impossible. The day after the advertisement appeared, the information appeared in the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary.

Within a week of its appearance, the advertisement led to questions being asked in the House of Commons, and began a public debate which eventually led to liberalisation in the laws against cannabis use in Britain.

 

Source: The Beatles Bible





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:





Switzerland and Copenhagen – beyond cannabis tolerance (part one)

8 12 2011

coffeeshop stickerThe policy of ‘soft drug tolerance’ in the Netherlands is probably the most well-known example of a country attempting to regulate the use and sale of cannabis. Recognising that marijuana and hashish consumption cause very little social or personal harm, Holland’s laws were changed to differentiate relatively benign soft drugs from genuinely harmful hard drugs.

Low rate of cannabis consumption

Not only did this free citizens from unreasonable prosecution, the law change had the positive effect of separating the cannabis market from the hard drug black market, so that cannabis was not sold alongside dangerous, addictive substances. As a result, Holland boasts the lowest rates of hard drug use in the Western world, and even has a significantly lower rate of cannabis consumption than most comparable countries.

Sadly, the Dutch tolerance model is under attack from the current government of the Netherlands, and there are regular attempts to undermine the rational drug laws that have benefited the country for the last three and a half decades.

Reform of cannabis laws in Europe

Nevertheless, the undeniable success of the Dutch model has had an impact on the policy of other European countries. Spain, Portugal and Belgium have made advances in decriminalising small-scale personal growing and possession, while the Czech Republic and Slovakia are likely to reform their laws soon.

It’s also worth remembering that two other European nations enjoyed an enviable amount of cannabis freedom up until the mid-2000s. Denmark (specifically Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen) and Switzerland tolerated open sales of marijuana and hashish, though neither country had officially decriminalised cannabis at the time.

A cannabis vendor in Christiania, in 2002

A cannabis vendor in Christiania, in 2002

Christiania and the hash and marijuana trade

The Christiania hashish market began with the founding of the Freetown in 1971 and was tolerated by the Danish authorities on the principle that it reduced the association between cannabis and hard drugs, and also because concentrating the trade in one area was seen as preferable to having it dispersed throughout the country.

Swiss ‘aromatic pillows’ of cannabis

Cannabis growing on balconies in Geneva in 2008

Cannabis growing on balconies in Geneva in 2008

In Switzerland, there was a brief flourishing of shops which sold bags of herbal cannabis as ‘aromatic pillows’ or ‘bath scents’, on the proviso that the contents were not for human consumption. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Swiss farmers grew cannabis by hundreds of hectares and were said to be producing over 100 tonnes of marijuana per year.

Reversal of advances in cannabis freedom

Between 2004 and 2006, instead of further liberalisation, the authorities in both countries made serious attempts to stamp out these advances in cannabis freedom. The Swiss cannabis shops were closed and large-scale, open cultivation more or less ceased. The Christiana hash market was dismantled by its own traders one day before the Copenhagen police were scheduled to carry out a raid and shut it down.

The demand for cannabis has not been reduced

These days, the Christiana market has more or less returned to its normal state and, predictably, the demand for cannabis is Switzerland has not been reduced by the abolishment of the shops that allowed it to be bought with ease and safety.

Source: Sensi Seeds





Switzerland and Copenhagen – beyond cannabis tolerance (part two)

8 12 2011

Switzerland and Denmark are considering measures which could lead to the return of decriminalised cannabis in 2012. In both cases, the main reason for the proposed change is to reduce the harm caused by pushing cannabis onto the black market. The simple, inarguable fact is that cannabis will continue to be consumed for its medicinal and recreational properties, so allowing otherwise law-abiding people to grow or purchase it legally is the best way to prevent cannabis sales enriching criminals.

Small-scale cultivation of cannabis

Cannabis plants from an indoor grow dismantled by police in Lausanne, Switzerland (photo by police)

Cannabis plants from an indoor grow dismantled by police in Lausanne, Switzerland (photo by police)

 

Four cantons in the French-speaking part of Switzerland – Geneva, Neuchatel, Vaud and Fribourg – have ratified an agreement to allow small-scale cultivation of cannabis within their borders. Under the new law, which should come into effect on January 1st 2012, adult residents may grow up to four cannabis plants for personal consumption. Houses with more than one adult may cultivate four plants per person, provided that each household member tends their own plants. Anyone wishing to grow more than five plants or to trade in cannabis products is required to seek authorisation from the relevant authorities, but growing four plants or fewer will not need to be reported.

The new law is intended to prevent ‘drug tourism’ between cantons with different laws, and to prevent cannabis being sold on the black market. The other 21 cantons of Switzerland have yet to decide on adopting a similar law.

Adults may legally buy cannabis

Similarly, Copenhagen Council is pushing ahead with its proposal to decriminalise cannabis within the city, and has set up a committee to investigate the best way to regulate the sale of hashish and marijuana. Currently, the favoured option is for 30 or 40 Council-controlled shops across the city in which adults may legally buy cannabis.

The Copenhagen cannabis market is estimated to be worth around €200 million per year, most of which is assumed to be controlled by criminal gangs. Social Democrat councillor Lars Aslan Andersen believes that taking control of this trade would benefit all citizens, whether or not they consume cannabis, not to mention the city itself.

“It’s better that the council distributes hashish and not criminals,” he said. “I hope we get the opportunity to try a new policy because we can’t just continue the current prohibition strategy with hash which is very outdated.”

“We don’t want an Amsterdam model”

Mikkel Warming, the Mayor in charge of Social Affairs pointed out that the Council wanted Copenhagen’s decriminalisation to be further reaching than that of the Netherlands, where the growing and importation of cannabis remains illegal, despite its sale being tolerated in licensed coffeeshops.

“We don’t want an Amsterdam model. We want a way to make it legal to import or grow marijuana,” he said.

The Copenhagen City Council’s proposal still has to be ratified by the Danish parliament, which has blocked similar movements in the past. Proponents of the change believe that a majority of the current parliament could support decriminalisation this time around.

In spite of the current Dutch government’s desire to do away with the tolerance policy adopt a regressive attitude to cannabis, it’s very encouraging that several other countries on the continent seem determined to move forward.

 

Source: Sensi Seeds





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 War On Drugs Has Failed!

7 06 2011

The global war on drugs has failed, a high-level commission comprised of former presidents, public intellectuals and other leaders studying drug policies concluded in a report released Thursday.

International efforts to crack down on drug producers and consumers and to try to reduce demand have had “devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy said.

The commission, which includes former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, challenges the conventional wisdom about drug markets and drug use.

Among the group’s recommendations:

End of criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but do not harm others

— Encourage governments to experiment with drug legalization, especially marijuana

— Offer more harm reduction measures, such as access to syringes

— Ditch “just say no” and “zero tolerance” policies for youth in favor of other educational efforts.

The theory that increasing law enforcement action would lead to a shrinking drug market has not worked, the report says. To the contrary, illegal drug markets and the organized criminal organizations that traffic them have grown, the group found.

The report comes as countries such as Mexico suffer from widespread drug-related violence. More than 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico in the past four years as rival cartels battle each other over lucrative smuggling corridors and as the army fights the cartels.

The commission’s findings add more high-profile voices to a growing movement calling for a radical approach to drugs. Other leaders, such as former Mexican President Vicente Fox, have called for drug legalization as part of a solution to his country’s woes.








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