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





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





French newspaper Le Figaro warns of cannabis cyber-police and fictional worldwide cannabis seed shipping

31 03 2011

In these times of increasing repression in France, national daily ‘Le Figaro’ shows its true colours as a propaganda tool rather than a source of factual information.

An article published on the website of Le Figaro last week (23rd March 2011)  aroused our curiosity as, in addition to vague threats about cyberpolice, it mentioned the well-known cannabis seed company Sensi Seeds on several occasions.

Picture used to illustrate what you can buy online, according to the paper

Fact or propaganda? An extract from the beginning of the article states:

“ [Based] In the Netherlands, the Sensi Seed website unapologetically advertises their ‘cannabis seedbank’ in all languages. They sell complete culture tents, similar in size  to wardrobes, ‘bloom boosters’ and even teach how to ‘grow with the Moon,’ to optimize growth according to the lunar calendar. From “Shiva Shanti” at 20 euros for ten seeds to the “Marley’s Collie”, 120 euros, “a strain of ganja celebrated by the great Bob Marley”, the bank offers hundreds of varieties. And even accessories: caps, t-shirts, playing cards. Everything is available worldwide, sent in express parcels.” Read the rest of this entry »





Czech police wants to use seized cannabis for treatment

2 02 2011

Well it’s definitely an idea only a cop could come up with, but while being surrealistic, it seems to reignite the debate on medical cannabis in a country where all drugs are already decriminalized in small amount.

Obviously the Justice Minister of the Czech Republic sees in this idea an opportunity to lower costs for his ministry not to dismiss it, but the expert quoted in the original article is right about the quality of the cannabis grown in illegal operations. It’s just not grown for such purpose.

cannabis farm police
Rather than seizing it, why not grow it?

The junior government Czech Public Affairs (VV) party supports the idea of marijuana being legalised for for medical purposes. But while first thinking about importing  cannabis from Holland, they now appear to be tempted by the cut in costs such initiative would create, not seeing any troubles in using weed from the black market to provide for patients’ treatment .

Maybe this is the opportunity to think about the legislation in a different way for medical marijuana since more and more Czech state institutions and politicians support the use of hemp for medical purposes.

Well even if the idea is not a safe one for patients, at least it opens the debate on medical cannabis. Let’s just hope this will lead to a new law legalising the medical use of cannabis in yet an other European country. And if police wants to help, they could provide with the grow equipment from previous seizure rather than the weed itself.

Sources: Cannabis Culture





Hundreds of “pot plant” seized were Horse Mint

29 06 2010

Texas Police Eradicate Patch of (Real) Weeds

Horse mint looks really similar to pot, doesn't it?

We’re not sure if this story from the never-ending War On (Certain) Drugs makes us want to laugh to or cry.

“What was first thought to be one of the largest marijuana seizures in the Corpus Christi, Texas Police Department’s history turned into an embarrassing incident for the cops, as the clueless officers spent a busy and exciting evening harvesting hundreds of horse mint plants from a city park.”

After a teenager riding his bike through the park reported what he thought might be cannabis:

“Police then hauled away 300 to 400 medium-sized plants that they, too, believed were marijuana.

Exhausted officers only stopped collecting the harmless plants because it got too dark to work; they planned to return bright and early in the morning to look around for more marijuana.

Trouble is, after spending more than an hour laboriously removing and tagging hundreds of plants, and then hauling it all to the police department downtown, testing revealed that none of it was marijuana at all. It was just a fairly common type of weed known as horse mint.”

In many ways, this story is no more ridiculous than the ongoing effort to stop people growing cannabis, and funny because at least no-one had their lives ruined because they grew a plant. Better that the cops in question spent an afternoon gardening instead of harassing smokers and growers.

On the other hand, as a commenter on original the article points out “The residents of Corpus [Christi] and Nueces County should seriously be concerned with how their tax dollars are spent. This is the same police department that serves, protects and investigates you.”

Sources: Newsjunkiepost





Police kills man’s dogs in front of his kids during marijuana raid

10 05 2010

What kind of a sick world do we live in if a man can see his dogs killed in front of his family by the police for a small quantity of weed?

Jonathan E. Whitworth found his house raided by the police because investigators believed Whitworth was in possession of a large amount of marijuana and was considered a distributor. The Police raided his house at around 20:30 and shot his two dogs while his family was present. The only thing they found was a grinder, a pipe and a small amount of marijuana.

Look at the movie below (Warning! Graphic content) and tell us, even if this guy is a big time “drug” dealer, did his kids really deserve to go through such an thing? Having the family dogs shot to death and your dad arrested in such a brutal way?








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