Marijuana Loses Its Appeal In Coffee Shop Culture

Marijuana Loses Its Appeal In Coffee Shop Culture
Posted by FoM on July 30, 2001 at 07:34:21 PT
By Susan Taylor Martin, Times Senior Correspondent
Source: St. Petersburg Times 
It's called a "coffee shop," but the New Millennium 2000 doesn't sell much latte or cappuccino. The big draws are hashish and marijuana. For $9.50, customers can get a gram of Arabica Queen, enough hashish to pack a tiny pipe two or three times. For $5, they can buy enough Super Skunk marijuana to roll a couple of joints. And for $4, they can purchase a "cocktail joint," a pre-rolled blend. To many Americans, who can go to jail for using cannabis, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit (or two or three) to the New Millennium or another of the city's 281 coffee shops. 
But to the Dutch, the easy availability of cannabis has eliminated much of its appeal. Among the many Dutch who have never even sampled the stuff: the owner of the New Millennium 2000. "I don't smoke, I'm not interested," says 27-year-old Abdel Tarzaki. Since 1976, this little country of 15.5-million has been the world's biggest experiment in decriminalizing marijuana and its close cousin, hashish. The coffee shops reflect what the Dutch see as a fact of life: Most young people experiment with illegal substances. If you let them buy and use "soft" drugs in a regulated setting, you can keep them away from street dealers pushing highly addictive "hard" drugs like heroin. The approach appears to be working. According to the United Nations, 5.2 percent of Dutch 12 and older had used marijuana or hashish in the past year -- less than half the 12.3 percent rate in the United States. So few Dutch youth are trying heroin that the average age of new addicts in the Netherlands has risen to 33. Cocaine use also is significantly less than in the United States. "The separation of hard and soft drugs has helped keep people out of the drugs that really marginalize you from society," says Janhuib Blans of Jellinek, a Dutch organization that runs drug prevention, counseling and treatment programs. Despite the statistics, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton's drug czar, called the Netherlands' drug policy "an unmitigated disaster." The Swedes, whose attitude toward illegal drugs is nearly as strict as that of the United States, charge that the Dutch are raising "a lost generation." Yet experts who have closely studied the Dutch model are convinced of its merits. Among them is Craig Reinarman, a sociology professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz. "Marijuana laws all over the world are based on the premise, primarily pushed by America, that if you let this stuff in, all hell will break loose -- marijuana will be a gateway (to heroin), there will be 'reefer madness,"' Reinarman says. "But the only place this theory has been tested is in the Netherlands and the Dutch are right about in the middle. They don't have any more drug users, they have a much lower rate of heroin addiction. So the hell that was supposed to have broken out just hasn't happened." The Dutch acceptance of cannabis dates to the country's Golden Age in the 17th century, when the Dutch East India Company was the world's largest trading firm and its ships brought back consumable treasures from around the globe. "These people were devoutly Protestant, straight and narrow, but they worked hard and allowed themselves a bit of celebration," says Reinarman, who is writing a book on Dutch tolerance. "There is a very long history with ... substances that give pleasure to the senses, including opiates, tobacco, beer, wine and spirts and certainly cannabis." Paintings by the Old Masters show Dutch burghers smoking what appears to be cannabis from long pipes. As Holland became a great seafaring nation, farmers grew hemp, which comes from the same plant as marijuana and hashish, to make ropes and sails. In this century, the Netherlands has joined other countries in adopting treaties aimed at eliminating the international drug trade. But the Dutch began to rethink their drug polices in the 1970s when they faced a growing heroin problem that came with the influx of young immigrants from the former colony of Suriname. In 1976, the government passed the Opium Act, which distinguished between hard drugs that have "unacceptable" risks (heroin, cocaine) and soft drugs (marijuana and hashish). Trafficking in hard drugs remained subject to vigorous prosecution and tough punishment. But the law in effect decriminalized the personal use of cannabis and the "coffee shops" were born. At first, the government tolerated the shops but began to regulate them in the early '80s. Today, coffee shops can sell up to 5 grams of cannabis per transaction as long as they obey five rules: no minors, no alcohol sales, no hard drug sales, no advertising and no "public nuisance." A study, yet to be published, suggests that the 1976 act helped separate the markets for hard and soft drugs. Interviewers asked drug users in Amsterdam, San Franciso and Bremen, Germany, if they could get other drugs from the same source as they obtained marijuana. Slightly more than 80 percent of the Americans and Germans said they could also get heroin and cocaine from their marijuana suppliers. Less than 50 percent of the Dutch said they could obtain hard drugs from their soft-drug source. There have been other provocative findings. "One of the key measures of drug use is 'lifetime prevalance' -- if people have ever used drugs in their lifetime," says Reinarman, an author of the study. "In Amsterdam, where you can't throw a brick without hitting a coffee shop, the lifetime prevalance of cannabis is 26 percent. In San Francisco, where one can be imprisoned for using cannabis, it's 66 percent." Inconsistencies in Dutch policy make for strange rules at coffee shops. It is permissible for the proprietor to sell cannabis out the front door, but it is illegal for him to bring it in through the back door. "It is a very strange thing," says the New Millennium's Tarzaki, whose cannabis comes from Morocco. "If I have something with me in my car to take to my shop, it is not allowed and I could be arrested." To eliminate such a paradox, the Dutch Parliament passed a non-binding resolution last year that would have legalized the production and supply of Dutch-grown cannabis to coffee shops. The government rejected the idea, saying it would violate international treaties and encourage "drug tourism." Some Dutch experts say pressure from the United States is the real reason their country has not taken an even bolder approach to drugs. As with other consumer products, they say, there should be laws assuring quality throughout the entire chain of production and distribution. "How much weed killer you can put on cannabis plants might be more urgent and affect more people than addiction (issues)," says Blans of the Jellinek Center. "We can't set up laws that fine-tune what we want to do. The U.S. is the main block for us to legislate in the direction we'd like to go in." However, California's Reinarman thinks the Dutch approach, while "a bit messy," has enabled the Netherlands to develop effective drug policies without running afoul of international treaties. "A lot of these treaties were negotiated in The Hague and the Dutch are proud of that," he says. "Having space between law and policy gives them room to maneuver despite the best efforts of the United States to make them a pariah nation." Critics of U.S. drug policy know it would be politically impossible in America to adopt the more liberal Dutch approach toward drug use. And, they acknowledge, there's no guarantee that a drug policy developed in a small, homogenous country like the Netherlands, with an excellent national health care system and low rates of poverty and homelessness, would necessarily work well in a big, diverse country like the United States. "If you just all of a sudden magically passed the Dutch drug model to the U.S., it might not look like it looks (in Holland) because we have all kinds of other problems the Dutch don't have or that they handle better," Reinarman says. "Each country has to work out its own policy. But there are trends in the developed world that are clearly moving more in the Dutch direction." Despite tolerating the personal use of cannabis, Dutch authorities have intensified controls over the coffee shops, closing more than 350 in the past five years because of nuisance complaints and code violations. Most of the 845 or so remaining shops are in bigger cities; almost 75 percent of Dutch municipalities do not allow them. In Amsterdam, the shops remain popular with tourists, even though visitors account for most of the reported medical problems. Americans tend to wolf down "space cakes" -- made with marijuana -- and smoke far more cannabis than they're used to, resulting in occasional panic attacks. "Sometimes smoking hashish can make you feel awful," warns a free pamphlet distributed in tourist areas. "If that happens, find a nice, quiet place to sit down and relax. Have something sweet to eat or drink. In an hour, the worst of it will be over." In more experienced users, cannabis generally produces nothing more than a mild "high" and a relaxed feeling. That's especially welcome when it comes to visiting British soccer fans, whose own country has Europe's highest rate of marijuana use. "In other places they get drunk and cause all kinds of problems," says Tarzaki. "Here they come to the coffee shops, smoke a joint and just sit in the corner and smile." Coming Tuesday:Switzerland puts drug traffickers in prison -- then gives some of them heroin as part of a controversial program to treat opiate addictions. Complete Title: Marijuana Loses Its Appeal in Dutch 'Coffee Shop' CultureAmsterdam, Netherlands Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)Author: Susan Taylor MartinPublished: July 30, 2001Copyright: 2001 St. Petersburg TimesContact: letters sptimes.comWebsite: Versus Them - St. Petersburg Times SeriesSource of Ecstasy Experiencing 'Fatigue' With It Approach To Education: Just Lay Out Facts Policy Not Limited To Borders's Pot Feeds U.S. Habit
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Comment #4 posted by lookinside on July 30, 2001 at 20:18:03 PT:
i dunno...
he looks pretty relaxed...ain't goin anywhere...i think it'shemp...
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Comment #3 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on July 30, 2001 at 10:22:40 PT:
Hey Mister, What's In the Pipe?
They sure aren't listening to the Dead, so it must be tobacco.
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Comment #2 posted by Doug on July 30, 2001 at 10:09:16 PT
Smoking and Skittles
Check out this painting from the early 1660's by Jan Steen. The man with his back to us is smoking something suspicious in his long pipe.
Skittle Players Outside an Inn
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on July 30, 2001 at 08:24:17 PT:
Stark Contrast
In Holland, cannabis is made out to be no big deal, and kids manage pretty well avoiding problems with it or other drugs, or alcohol (which is available from age 16).Meanwhile, Amerika and Sweden can only lie about the results. Repression increases problems. No teen is likely to resist the forbidden fruit completely. The more forbidden it is made out to be, the more attractive it becomes. Too bad our regime is so attached to punishment, pontification and police. A little respect would produce dividends.
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