Sunday, July 29th, 2007
Our coffeeshop-policy is so offensive because it clearly shows that cannabis prohibition is useless.
By Freek Polak
Friday, April 27th 2007
Belgium’s prime minister recently wrote a letter criticizing our drug policy.
A nice opportunity to take a firm, self- conscious stand.
Foreign criticism and pressure have a long history in trying to influence Dutch drug policy. There was the Swedish boycott threat in the 80’s, the joined disapproval of Chirac and Kohl, the smaller convictions from Ireland, Germany and Italy, and the live appearance of American drug fighter Barry McCaffrey. And now there is this angry letter from Guy Verhofstadt, the prime minister of Belgium, who, from the moral higher ground, demands that the Netherlands change their drug policy.
It is striking that in all those years of criticism there was never any coordinated action against the Netherlands. The European Union as well as the United Nations stood and watched. The campaigns were always isolated outbursts, floating on unproven assumptions. Well informed citizens could easily debunk the myths. But why this lack of co-ordination in the attacks?
The answer is simple: if an honest debate on drug policy in EU-countries is organised, the Netherlands will certainly not be the worst pupil of the class. A real scientific basis to support the repressive drug policies is non existent. The supporters of such policies therefore have to try it another way: by rhetoric.
And how does Holland react to this? Up to now our country has always admitted a little to the claims. In all sorts of negotiations both sides made compromises and the conflict was eventually buried. Ironically the moderate approach towards drug users and possession for personal use is practiced in most EU-countries at the same moment. In other words the Dutch permissive approach has caught on well in Europe. However, as soon as there is some media commotion on drugs, politicians like to profile as supporters of the repressive approach.
Mayor Gerd Leers of Maastricht doesn’t get involved with this. Unreluctantly he keeps finding arguments in his every day governing practice that point to the need for a thorough debate on drug policy. Criminologist Brice De Ruyver, of Gent in Belgium was all but soft on the Lord Mayor in this weeks episode of “Netwerk”: “Mayor Leers’ capital mistake, is that he concedes to the logic of the criminal organisations that have only one goal: making big profits (…). The organising part of the criminal organisations controls ‘the backdoor’ of the coffeeshops.”
Being a criminologist Mr. De Ruyver of all people should understand that these criminal organisations are controlling the backdoor partly because of the worldwide cannabis prohibition that Belgium obviously supports. And how does he explain that the cannabis use in the land of the coffeeshops turns out to be slightly lower compared to the Belgian cannabis use?
Remembering that for 30 years the Dutch cannabis- and coffeeshop policy was so offensive because it clearly showed that cannabis prohibition is pointless and even harmful, we now can distinguish the real reason for the coffeeshop shutdown-mania. It looks like De Ruyver and allies are striving for just that, using the fuzz that was created over the re-localisation of the coffeeshops. But considering the Belgian critique on the Dutch policy, it normally should amount to more Dutch support for Mayor Leers who is also trying to regulate cultivation.
The Netherlands are now forced to make a choice. It can openly bend and kneel for yet another groundless attack on its drug policy, or it can take a self-conscious stand. The latter choice being the easiest, as Belgium and other countries are attacking our policy from a much weaker position.
It is reprehensible, even unacceptable that the Dutch government refuses to enter this drug debate (justice-minister Donner was quoted saying he had “no need” for such a debate). If the Dutch government refuses to even think about taking a stand and if it would simply let down Dutch coffeeshop policy without sound arguments, it is guilty of indecent governance.
Freek Polak is a psychiatrist and boardmember of ‘Stichting Drugsbeleid’.
From 1990 to 2003 he worked parttime for the drug department of GGD Amsterdam.
More about drugs in the EU on the site of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Read Mayor Gerd Leers’ weblog (Dutch)Republish