This European Notion Worth Adopting Here In U.S.

This European Notion Worth Adopting Here In U.S.
Posted by FoM on November 28, 1999 at 14:01:53 PT
By Laura Billings, Staff Columnist
Source: Pioneer Planet
One of the side effects of world travel is how it opens your eyes to the many ways your own little corner of the planet could stand improvement. Spring break in Mexico will generally inspire you to take more siestas. 
A vacation in Italy, where the barmen can paint a swaying palm tree out of the foamed milk and nutmeg on your cappuccino, will only make you more contemptuous of the service at Starbuck's. A trip to Turkey will typically turn you on to all the untapped potential of eggplant. So after spending the past several days in Amsterdam, I've been considering what aspect of Dutch culture I'd want to import. And though easy access to pancakes and Vermeer paintings ranked high on the list, the thing I admired most about Holland was a single word: Gedoogbelied. I have no idea how to pronounce it, but if you tried it with a slight German accent mixed with a tad of Dr. Seuss, you probably wouldn't be far off. I'm told it comes from the root ``gedogen,'' which means ``to look the other way,'' and though it has no direct translation in English it describes the commonsensical act of tolerating behavior that is sort of illegal, provided it doesn't get completely out of control. This word is applied most regularly -- and controversially -- toward the Netherlands' policy on soft drugs. In 1976, the Health Ministry of Holland determined that crime linked to the sale of drugs was a greater threat to health than the actual drugs, and thus decriminalized cannabis without making it technically legal.In 1996, the Dutch went even further by licensing the country's 1,000 or so coffee shops and ``hash'' houses, increasing safety and security for the estimated 1 million regular Dutch pot consumers, and also providing a nice tax base (so substantial that the mayor of Amsterdam may be the only elected official in the world happy to tell reporters the going price for a gram of pot in his city: about 8 bucks). But this remains a controversial policy, particularly if your own country is losing its battle against drugs. Last year, French President Jacques Chirac blamed Holland for his own country's rising drug rates (never mind that Spain, Pakistan, and Morocco are the main suppliers of drugs to France), and pressured the Dutch to drop the allowable amount of pot from 30 grams (admittedly, a quantity better suited to entrepreneurs than day-trippers) to five.U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey visited Holland last year to declare their drug policy ``an unmitigated disaster,'' claiming it contributed to the country's ``high crime rate.'' Which might actually be true if you count all the bike thieves, pickpockets, and people who don't pick up after their dogs in Amsterdam. Clearly, there are drawbacks to this permissive policy. It attracts idiotic tourists who are so delighted at the prospect of ordering a croissant and a spliff of Mexican sensamilla they never make it to the Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandt's ``Night Watch.'' And too many of the country's coffee-shop owners seem to think pop music began and ended with Bob Marley's ``Legends'' album. But are their problems any more ridiculous than our own absurd ``war on drugs'' that cost $17.1 billion in federal funds last year, plus $20 billion more from state and local sources? As much as $3 billion is spent on pot busts alone. Some 4,000 new HIV infections could have been prevented before the year 2000 if the federal ban on needle-exchange funding had been lifted this year. Every 20 seconds, someone is arrested in the U.S. for a drug law violation. All this, when a 1990 Gallup poll found that only 4 percent of Americans thought arresting people who use drugs was the best way for the government to allocate resources.Suddenly, gedoogbelied doesn't sound like such a dumb word.So what came next on my list of things Holland has that we could use? Light rail. But I worried that writing about the wonders of reliable public transit might make readers think I'd been smoking something funny. Laura Billings' column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be reached at:lbillings or (651) 228-5584Gedoogbelied describes the commonsensical act of tolerating behavior that is sort of illegal, provided it doesn't get completely out of control. Published: November 28, 1999 1999 PioneerPlanetRelated Article: Column: Drug War Runs Contrary To Common Sense - 11/19/99
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on November 28, 1999 at 14:44:58 PT
Gedoogbelied, a.k.a. Mind your own business
I've been there too, and the matter runs a lot deeper in the Dutch national psychology than you can imagine.I had the pleasure of speaking with a Rijkspolitie officer there in 1987. I had asked him why they tolerated cannabis sales. His reply should give pause to every zealous cop, prosecutor or judge who thinks they have the angels on their side when they sentence someone under the present anti-cannabis laws in this country.He said, in perfect English, that his people had very long memories. As he put it, "My father told me stories of what it was like when the Nazi's took over my country. The Nazi's always said that they were doing everything for the best, that they did what they did because they felt *morally superior* (emphasis mine) and were the only ones who had the strength of will to do the right thing." Then the cop looked at me, and said, "The Nazi's did terrible things to us here. We are not going to do those things to ourselves." The generation prior to his, the one that had (barely) survived Nazi occupation, made sure that the underlying causes and effects of fascism were spelled out so that no one would ever be temptedf again by the siren song of totalitarianism. But we here in America have never had to learn that lesson. I fear that we may yet have to.
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