Dutch Take Sober Look at Pot Laws

Dutch Take Sober Look at Pot Laws
Posted by CN Staff on January 01, 2006 at 07:12:33 PT
By Ken Dilanian, Inquirer Staff Writer
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Amsterdam -- Paul Wilhelm speaks about marijuana the way a vintner might discuss wine. He talks of aroma, taste and texture, of flowering periods, of the pros and cons of hydroponic cultivation.Wilhelm's connoisseurship might earn him a long prison sentence in the United States, but here in the Netherlands, he's just another taxpaying businessman. He owns a long-established pot emporium - the Dutch call them "coffee shops" - where customers can sidle up to the bar, peruse a detailed menu, and choose from 22 variations of fragrant marijuana and 18 types of potent hash.
Business got even better after Wilhelm's shop, the Dampkring, was featured in 2004 in the film Ocean's Twelve.And yet life is not as simple for Wilhelm as it is for the pub owner down the street, thanks to the contradictory nature of Holland's famously liberal drug laws. Though the business is duly licensed and regulated, to run it properly he is forced to flout the law on a daily basis. While the Netherlands allows the sale of small amounts of marijuana in coffee shops, it is still illegal to grow marijuana, store it, and transport it in the kind of quantities that any popular shop requires.Last month, the Dutch parliament began debating a proposal to change that by launching a pilot project to regulate marijuana growing. It was the brainchild of the mayor of Maastricht, a city near the German and Belgian borders that is plagued by gangs of smugglers. Proponents argue that legalizing growing will drive out most of the criminal element and boost responsible purveyors."The current policy is schizophrenic," Wilhelm said. "Under the rules, we can only keep 500 grams in the shop at any one time, so that means I have to have more delivered every few hours. And if the delivery guy gets stopped, they take everything, and he gets arrested."For years, that odd state of affairs seemed to work well, because it allowed the Dutch to tolerate marijuana without having to risk the opprobrium that would come from legalizing it. But organized crime has come to play an increasing role in production, the government has found.A majority in parliament has come out in favor of the bill to decriminalize growing, reflecting widespread Dutch comfort with a liberal marijuana policy. But the ruling Christian Democratic Party, which has increasingly tightened the rules on coffee shops, opposes it. Analysts expect the government to block implementation even if the measure passes."It won't solve anything," said Ivo Hommes, a spokesman for the justice ministry. "You will still have a large amount of people that will grow marijuana for illegal sales and for international export."Though they consider the bill a good first step, Wilhelm and other coffee-shop owners agree. What they really want is full legalization of cannabis. Polls show that a majority of Dutch support that, but the government says it would run afoul of the international narcotics conventions that the Netherlands and most other nations have signed.Whatever the fate of the legislation, the Dutch debate underscores a schism in the developed world over how to deal with drug use.Even as the United States continues to spend tens of billions of dollars each year fighting a war on drugs that lately has included an increasing number of marijuana arrests, much of Europe and Canada have instead opted to treat drug use as a public-health problem.While no country has gone as far as the Netherlands and allowed open sales of marijuana, in most of Europe possession of small amounts of cannabis, and even cocaine and heroin, merits only a fine. And penalties for drug dealing are far lower than in the United States.Rejecting the approach that has filled America's jails with nonviolent drug offenders, Europeans and Canadians have embraced the concept of "harm reduction," which argues that illegal drug use is impossible to stamp out, and therefore the best public policy is to minimize the damage to society.A central tenet of this approach is giving out clean needles to drug addicts to prevent the spread of HIV - something that remains controversial in the United States but is common in Europe and Canada.But it goes further: Several countries allow government-funded "consumption rooms" for drug users, to provide them with social services and dissuade them from using drugs on the street. And at least four countries - Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain - have programs under which the government gives heroin to hard-core addicts and lets them inject themselves in a government-sponsored facility.That idea is profoundly controversial, but the Swiss, who pioneered the practice a decade ago, insist that it has dramatically reduced drug deaths and street crime by addict participants, who no longer have to steal or mug to feed their habits.Antonio Costa, an Italian who heads the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime in Vienna, has little patience for Europe's tolerant stance, which he believes is behind a recent upswing in cocaine use in the region. While overall European drug use has never been as high as that in the United States, American rates have been falling while European rates have been rising.Many other Europeans, though, shake their heads at what they consider a moralistic, absolutist mind-set among America's drug warriors.It's not that there is no common ground: Even the Dutch arrest drug smugglers (including marijuana traffickers), and in July the Dutch government signed a cooperation agreement with Washington.But the Dutch coffee-shop policy is grounded in a belief that is anathema to American drug enforcers: that cannabis is no more harmful than alcohol. Dutch experts argue that this remains true even though much of the marijuana grown these days is far more potent than the kind smoked by the flower children of the 1960s.American officials have long sought to discredit Europe's more liberal drug policies, and the Dutch experience in particular - sometimes with a selective use of statistics.The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, for example, takes aim in an anti-legalization paper on its Web site under a subheading, "Europe's More Liberal Drug Policies Are Not the Right Model for America."The agency points out that from 1984 to 1996, marijuana use doubled among 18- to 25-year-olds in Holland. What it doesn't say is that marijuana use in the Netherlands has been stable since then, and it remains lower than in the United States, which has seen use rise from a low in 1992.Indeed, 30 years after the Netherlands began allowing open marijuana sales, only about 3 percent of the Dutch population - or 408,000 people - use marijuana in a given year, compared with 8.6 percent - or 25.5 million - Americans, according to the most authoritative surveys by both governments.Dutch health officials say there is no evidence that the country's tolerant marijuana policy encourages use of harder drugs, which here is about average compared with the rest of Europe, and far lower than in the United States. To the contrary, proponents argue, the policy is designed to separate hard drugs from soft, because coffee shops found selling hard drugs are shut down.In the United States, meanwhile, the war on drugs has increasingly become a war on pot.A study of FBI data released last year by a Washington-based think tank, the Sentencing Project, found that between 1992 and 2002, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of all drug arrests to 45 percent, while the proportion of heroin and cocaine cases dropped from 55 percent of all drug arrests to less than 30 percent.The rationale behind such a crackdown mystifies Dutch cannabis aficionados such as Wilhelm. He doesn't argue that marijuana is harmless. But he sees every day that it can be enjoyed recreationally and responsibly, just like alcohol."I've got three daughters, and I want to know that if they do try marijuana, they're not going to get it where someone is going to offer them some cocaine or an ecstasy pill," Wilhelm said. "I don't say that marijuana is healthy, but it's there. You can't close your eyes and think that if you lock everybody up, it's going to disappear."Note: Marijuana can be sold and smoked in the Netherlands, but not grown or shipped. Wider legalization is debated.Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)Author:  Ken Dilanian, Inquirer Staff WriterPublished: Sunday, January 01, 2006Copyright: 2006 Philadelphia Newspapers IncContact: Inquirer.Letters phillynews.comWebsite: Articles: Maastricht's Bad Experience with Cannabis Politicans Seek Marijuana Rules Back Plan To Regulate Marijuana Farming
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Comment #9 posted by critto on January 03, 2006 at 16:55:35 PT:
NETHERLANDS, RENOUNCE the Single Convention
"Polls show that a majority of Dutch support that, but the government says it would run afoul of the international narcotics conventions that the Netherlands and most other nations have signed."Yep, it's a HIGH TIME to renounce the tyranny of Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs by renouncing this treaty. I hope that Netherlands would eventually be the One that pulls the loose fabric of the Prohibition Regime. The courage pays. Once one country pulls out of the Single Convention, the next ones will become bolder to oppose the tyranny and to legalize Marihuana. They will start to see, that it's better to have the LEGAL AND TAXED MJ-enterprises than the illegal and mafia-run ones. Finally, the international prohibitionist regime will fall. DOWN WITH THE SINGLE CONVENTION ON NAROTIC DRUGS!!!NO MORE International Narcotics Control Board!!!! FREEDOM FOR MARIHUANA GROWERS, USERS AND SELLERS !!!
In Liberty,
Libertaryzm=libertarianism (Polish and English essays and links)
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Comment #8 posted by afterburner on January 01, 2006 at 22:01:52 PT
RE Comment #3 -- So...
Maybe Evo Morales, the newly-elected President, will make Bolivia the first nation to pull out of the 1961-adopted Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. DEA-Hating Coca Farmer Elected President of Bolivia 19 Dec, 2005
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Comment #7 posted by boballen1313 on January 01, 2006 at 22:01:22 PT:
 the Dutch parliament began debating
Can anyone else hear the sound of democracy at work? A debate, a public debate. Makes my heart yearn for real freedom. I pray for the day when debate is the accepted method of consideration of freedom. How many else feel the same? Wish we all could go dutch and regain our freedom.
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Comment #6 posted by boballen1313 on January 01, 2006 at 19:38:00 PT:
Bush and Cheney are moving expended nuclear waste through Montana. Rather have some Tankers of Cannabis moved down Hightway 93 than nuke tailings. Just my opinion. 
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Comment #5 posted by ekim on January 01, 2006 at 12:38:11 PT
correction to comment 4
correction --At least 86 vehicles not for sale in the US achieve combined city and highway fuel efficiency of 40 mpg or better.of these , 65 percent (51) are made by either US auto manufacturers (eg, Ford and GM) or foreign manufacturers with substantial US sales operations (ag, Volkswagen, Nissan and Toyota).Some of the most fuel effecient vehicles are made by foreign manufacturers with little or no US distribution (eg, PSA Peugeot Citreon, Fiat and Renault)
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Comment #4 posted by ekim on January 01, 2006 at 11:44:42 PT
how far behind are we really----------
have the Dutch been making paper
what is being done in reducing using trees in papermaking. Woody how is your paper mill doing in Canada. CO has NREL working on cellulose ethanol and Willie selling bio diesel in new york Seems that there are at least 86 vehicles that get over 40 mpg that are not sold in the US. Made by all the car makers that sell in the US both domestic and foreign manufacturers. And at least 34 other cars that get over 50 mpg using mostly clean diesel.  Civil Society Institute President Pam Solo said "there is a reason why US automakers are laying off people in the tens of thousands and steadily losing ground to foreign competitors. The industry is not listening to consumer demand. And the more consumers make the connection to global warming and so on, the more the pressure for change will build. " Kal Gazette sun Jan 1 page j7 
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on January 01, 2006 at 11:31:16 PT:
That Single Convention Treaty nonsense again
Its' amazing just how selective a memory DrugWarriors can have. In the Treaty, it states quite plainly that signatories to it CAN PULL OUT OF IT WITH 6 MONTHS NOTICE. Would anyone here believe that if *any* signatory country decided to leave it, that nation would start a mass exodus? Because, the UN's SCT is a largely *American* creation, the crowning achievement of ol' Harry "I-hate-ginger-colored-n****rs!"-Anslinger before the Kennedy Administration got sick of his racism and his lies and gave him the boot. The SCT is the cornerstone of the insulting 'drug certification' nonsense the US holds over the heads of weaker, poorer nations in need of our largesse - or perhaps I should say, those nation's tin-pot dictators feverishly hoping to line their corrupt pockets with US aid. As such, it is despised in the rest of the world as being another example of American arrogance. Dumping that treaty is a signal to the rest of the world that a nation has come to its' senses regarding illicit drugs...and it won't take US BS anymore...
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Comment #2 posted by John Tyler on January 01, 2006 at 08:34:30 PT
Can't hold back an idea whose time has come
In economics they say that people vote with their money. Every dollar or euro (in Europe’s case) is a vote. People are voting for cannabis in a big way. It is sad that the reactionary politicians are trying to hold back this idea whose time has come. 
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Comment #1 posted by WolfgangWylde on January 01, 2006 at 08:07:31 PT
Did ya ever notice the tone of these articles?
I've seen a few of these articles on the new proposals on the block in the Netherlands. Reading them, one gets the impression that the Dutch are unhappy about their tolerance of cannabis use, and rue the day they quasi-legalized use and possession. Yet when you look at the facts (often buried deep within the article), you find that the Dutch are quite satisfied with how they've seperated cannabis from hard drugs, and are looking to go even further by legalizing cultivation. Too much editorializing, not even reporting of the facts. So it goes.
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