Amsterdam: where liberalism hasn't run out of puff

Whenever drug legalisation is debated, people look to the Dutch experience. For 30 years the Netherlands has displayed a tolerance unequalled in Europe and has been cited by pro-legalisation camps as an innovative success in the fight against addiction.

Rehabilitation is at the centre of its drugs policy. Cannabis use, although officially illegal, is not pursued as a criminal offence and people can go to state-monitored "coffee shops" to buy dope. Law enforcement agencies and the courts are reserved for drug dealers and traffickers.

Recently, those opposed to easing drug restrictions in the UK have been citing the Dutch case as a failure, pointing to a growth in drug-related crime and violence. They claim that the Dutch now realise the error of their ways and are about to change their policy. In fact, the proposed changes are very limited and the central philosophy remains the same. The government is proposing to cut the amount of cannabis allowed for personal use from 30g to 5g and intends to phase out some of the bars, discos and bistros where people can buy and consume dope.

Paul Vasseur is drug co-ordinator for Amsterdam, which has about 450 such "coffee shops", 180 in the inner city alone. He says the plans have nothing to do with a view that decriminalisation has failed as a drugs policy or contributed to a more serious drug problem. "Far from it," he says. "The number of addicts has stabilised over the past two years."

The Dutch maintain they have one of the lowest proportions of drugs addicts per population - 1.6 per 100,000 people, compared with 2.6 in the UK and 2.5 in France. And citing World Health Organisation figures, Mr Vasseur claims the Netherlands has one of the lowest drug-related HIV rates in the world, at 360 people.

"There is no basic change in our philosophy. We are just being more realistic," he says. Five grams, enough for several joints, is sufficient for personal use, whereas 30g was a quantity which dealers, particularly those from Britain, France, Belgium and Germany, are buying and selling on. "Dealing is something we do not like and are not prepared to tolerate," he says. Neither are the Dutch authorities any longer prepared to tolerate the increase in petty crime and nuisance that local residents and shopkeepers associate with some coffee shops. But there is no proposal to close them altogether.

"Yes, we are into a more repressive period for anybody who violates rules," says Mr Vasseur. "That is because the so-called permissive society is behind us. Society has changed and we have to change with it. But our basic policy remains the same."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?