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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The new conservative Dutch government wants to force the country's marijuana cafes to become "members only" clubs, a move that would effectively block foreigners from buying the drug. If the idea ever becomes reality — it would be legally complicated and politically divisive — it would be the latest of the country's liberal policies to be scrapped or curtailed as the Dutch rethink the limits of their famed tolerance. While marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, it has been sold openly in designated cafes for decades, and police make no arrests for possession of small amounts.
Under the 1976 Law on opium (Opiumwet 1976), the possession, dealing, cultivation, transportation, production, import and export of narcotic drugs, including cannabis and its derivatives, are prohibited in the Netherlands. That Member State applies a policy of tolerance with regard to cannabis. That policy is reflected inter alia in the establishment of coffee-shops, the main activities of which are the sale and consumption of that ‘soft’ drug. The local authorities may authorise such establishments in compliance with certain criteria. In a number of coffee-shops, non-alcoholic beverages and food are also sold.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that a municipal regulation imposed by the city of Maastricht prohibiting local coffee-shop owners from admitting non-residents of the Netherlands was justified as it aimed to reduce drug tourism and public nuisance.
The municipality of the Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced two scientific experiments on cannabis policy. One experiment will be to set up a closed club model for adult recreational cannabis users. Cannabis smokers will grow their own marijuana in a cooperative, a move which would go against the government's drive to discourage coffee shops. The other experiment concerns treatment for people who are vulnerable to psychotic disorders.
The Netherlands plans to ban foreign visitors from pot shops in a move that opponents have labeled "tourism suicide." The Dutch government is trying to stop drug tourism in the country, according to a recent announcement. Under the plan, the "coffee shops" that sell marijuana will become private clubs limited to adult Dutch citizens who have to show proof of ID and become a member to buy marijuana.
Under legislation spearheaded by the conservative government, only Dutch residents will be allowed to enter cannabis-selling coffeeshops. The Dutch government announced on Friday, 27 May, that it will push ahead with plans requiring those purchasing marijuana in the country’s coffeeshops to first obtain an official pass — a move designed to curtail tourists from buying the drug. The announcement hit the international headlines.
A new study, What Can We Learn from the Dutch Cannabis Coffeeshop System?, published in the journal Addiction earlier this month challenged the United States' "provincial" drug policy, especially as it relates to youth. The study compared cannabis use among US teens to newly available data on usage rates in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. The results: The Dutch have about 700 adults-only clubs that sell 50 to 150 metric tons of cannabis per year, yet Dutch teens report lower levels of weed usage than youth in the United States.
Coffee shops in the Dutch city of Maastricht have banned foreign tourists, except those from Germany and Belgium, from entering their premises. "A number of people will leave disappointed, and we are not very proud of refusing entry to visitors who have come to our shops for the last 28 years and never caused a problem," said Marc Josemans, president of the Society of United Coffeeshops and owner of the Easy Going coffee shop. "The question now will be if they instead buy from the illegal drug runners here or if they buy illegally in their own countries."