Does smoking reefer lead to using other drugs, in daily practice usually described as cocaine and heroin? Raising the possibility that the answer to this question might be affirmative, is known as the stepping stone hypothesis. Recently this hypothesis has been raised again in slightly other terms: cannabis use as a “gateway” to other allegedly more dangerous drugs.
Cannabis is the cutting-edge drug for reform, the only politically plausible candidate for major legal change, at least decriminalisation (removal of criminal penalties for possession) and perhaps even outright legalisation (permitting production and sale). Compared with other drugs, the harms, physiological or behavioural, are less severe and the drug is better integrated into the culture. Throughout Western Europe and in the Antipodes there is pressure for reductions in the punitiveness of the marijuana regime.
Het Nederlandse cannabisbeleid verkeert al decennia in een internationaalrechtelijke schemerzone, stelt Martin Jelsma van het Transnational Institute (TNI). Nederland gedoogt de verkoop van kleine hoeveelheden softdrugs in coffeeshops (de zogenaamde voordeur), maar de aanvoer ervan (de achterdeur) is tot dusver verboden. In de loop der jaren is hierdoor een omvangrijke illegale sector ontstaan in Nederland die de coffeeshops bevoorraadt met nederwiet. Een kamermeerderheid wil nu het gedoogbeleid uitbreiden door een experiment met een gereguleerde aanvoer van wiet aan de achterdeur van coffeeshops, maar het kabinet is tegen.
TNI co-signed a letter that was sent to the Dutch Prime Minister and relevant parliamentary commissions, stressing the need for an active Dutch involvement in the UNGASS review process and specifically to use the moment to open the discussion about the UN conventions that are an obstacle to further developments in Dutch cannabis policy.
The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Costa, recently visited Amsterdam on 24 April. Accompanied by some officials of the Netherlands Ministry of Health and of the City of Amsterdam and UNODC staff, he dropped in on the coffeeshop De Dampkring (the Atmosphere) and a user room (for inhalation and injection of heroin and cocaine). He wrote his personal account for his blog Costa’s corner but it was never published. Apparently it proved to be too controversial with his Dutch host. It now has popped up on the Transform drug policy blog and the ENCOD website.
Robin Room, Peter Reuter (RAND), Wayne Hall, Benedikt Fischer, Simon Lenton, Amanda Fielding
01 September 2008
Despite cannabis being the most widely used illegal drug, and therefore the mainstay of the ‘war on drugs’, it has only ever held a relatively marginal position in international drug policy discussions. Amanda Fielding of the Beckley Foundation decided to convene a team of the world’s leading drug policy analysts to prepare an overview of the latest scientific evidence surrounding cannabis and the policies that control its use. The report of the Beckley Foundation's Global Cannabis Commission is aimed at bringing cannabis to the attention of policymakers and guide decision making.
Most of the Dutch local councils that have so-called coffee shops which sell marijuana say they have no problem with the current policy of tolerating these outlets, according to a survey by NRC Handelsblad. The newspaper sent a questionnaire to the 105 local councils which, between them, have a total of 353 coffee shops. Of the two-thirds that responded, only 14 felt these establishments should be closed. But over 75 percent want the national government to regulate wholesale supply to the coffee shops.
The Dutch government should licence the growing and supply of marijuana to the country’s 700 or so coffee shops that sell cannabis, according to a group of around 30 Dutch mayors. This is the conclusion of the ‘cannabis summit’ at which the mayors discussed the country’s policy on soft drugs. The mayor of Eindhoven, Rob van Gijzel, said his city is prepared to run a ‘monitored pilot scheme’ to assess if a system of licenced growers reduces drugs-related crime.
The Hungarian Civil Liberty Union (HCLU) produced a video on the debate on cannabis policy and the tolerated sale of small quantities of cannabis by coffee shops in the Netherlands. The debate fired up when the mayors of Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal, two towns near the Belgian border, decided to close their coffee shops.
Smoking without Borders An HCLU film about drug tourism in the Netherlands: is it really only the problem of the Dutch?
The owner and several employees of the biggest coffee shop in the Netherlands are being prosecuted for membership of a criminal organisation. The outcome of the trial can have a huge impact on soft drugs policy in the Netherlands. If Meddy Willemsen, the owner of the mega coffee shop Checkpoint in Terneuzen, is convicted of encouraging illegal cannabis cultivation and running an organised supply chain, more proprietors of coffee shops could face prosecution as gang leaders. (See also: Owner of massive cannabis café cleared of most charges on appeal)
The main purpose of this evaluation was to determine to what extent the principal goal of Dutch drug policy has been achieved, as stated in the 1995 Policy Document on Drugs (Drugsnota). This asserts the primacy of protecting public health, and thus gives priority to drugs prevention and to the management of the individual and social risks that arise from drug use.
Limit the sale of cannabis to local users, reconsider the distinction between hard and soft drugs, raise the legal age for drinking alcohol from 16 to 18 and appoint a drug czar to overlook policies. These are the most striking recommendations published on Thursday by a committee chaired by Christian democrat Wim van de Donk. The Dutch government had asked the committee to lay the groundwork for a new memorandum on Dutch drug policies to be drafted this fall.
A City Council majority is backing a plan to legalise the sale of cannabis, which could see two thirds of the market taken away from criminal gangs. A memorandum drawn up by council staff, is proposing that state-licensed shops sell the drug in small quantities at 50 kroner per gram – similar to the current street price.
Decriminalizing cannabis in the Netherlands and regulating the back-door of the coffee-shops and cultivation of cannabis would save 160 million euro on expenses by the police and the criminal justice system and bring in 260 million euro in tax revenues. The Dutch government is already earning some 400 million euros a year in corporate taxes from cannabis-selling coffee-shops.
A Dutch city has banned foreigners from its cannabis selling coffee shops. A European court will now decide whether this is legal. The continuing struggle of Dutch border towns against drug tourism could soon take a new turn, as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) prepares to hand down a ruling regarding one of the most severe measures employed in this battle so far. The ECJ heard arguments in Josemans v. Maastricht. (See also: Court backs Dutch ruling on coffee shops)
'Save the country, legalise drugs.' Under this striking banner, two former Dutch government ministers (for foreign affairs and health) are launching their revolutionary plan. They estimate that more than half of all the costs of crime are related to drugs. They argue that by regulating their production and sale and imposing strict government supervision, drug crime will disappear. And they say that would lead to unprecedented savings for the police and judiciary.
The ban on recreational drugs promotes crime and is bad for public health. Austerity measures to cut public spending are a hot topic for debate everywhere in Europe. In the Netherlands, where a new parliament will be elected next month, several proposals to reduce spending by 30 billion euros are on the table. All of these proposals hit where it hurts, but one option could actually be a welcome relief: drug regulation. (See also: Former ministers: legalise all drugs!)
In "Has the time come to legalize drugs?" Andres Oppenheimer, the influential opinion maker about Latin American affairs at the Miami Herald, describes how the debate about cannabis regulation "is rapidly moving to the mainstream in Latin America." He quotes White House drug czar Kerlikowske who argues that The Netherlands proves that relaxation of cannabis laws increases consumption, and that the Dutch government is now reversing its strategy. That requires some rectification.
People on both sides of the marijuana legalization debate have strong feelings about Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative that promises to regulate, control and tax cannabis. But science and empirical research have been given short shrift in the discussion. That's unfortunate, because the U.S. government has actually funded excellent research on the subject, and it suggests that several widely held assumptions about cannabis legalization actually may be inaccurate. When the total body of knowledge is considered, it's hard to conclude that we should stick with the current system.