Bob Keizer: These nothing soft about Dutch drugs policy

From a speech by a Dutch government drugs adviser at the Cannabis: Shaping a New Agenda conference, held in Liverpool

Share

To understand Dutch drug policy it is essential to know something of the Netherlands, as policies are in keeping with the characteristics and culture of the country that produces them. The Dutch have a strong belief in individual freedom and in the division between "church" (in other words, morality) and state. We believe in pragmatism and have a strong sense of responsibility for collective welfare. Our administrative system is decentralised to the local authorities to a large extent, particularly where drug policy is concerned.

These characteristics are reflected in our present drug policy, which was formulated in the mid-Seventies. A wide range of addict-care facilities is available. Dutch policy does not moralise, but is based on the assumption that drug use is a fact and must be dealt with as practically as possible. Our most important objective is to prevent, or to limit, the risks and harm associated with drug use, both to the user himself and to his environment. Because of this, the Ministry of Health is responsible for co-ordinating drug policy.

Many people think that drugs are legally available in the Netherlands and that we make no effort to combat the supply side of the drug market. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is continual intensive co-operation between the addict-care system, the judicial authorities and the public administrators. With the exception of small-scale cannabis dealing in coffee shops, since 1976, tackling all other forms of drug dealing and production has high priority.

Cannabis use in the Netherlands, as in all other countries, has increased in recent years and the age at which users start has gradually decreased. There are, however, signs that cannabis use is stabilising and even decreasing in the Netherlands. The trend towards increased use and the present scale of use are comparable with those in the surrounding countries of Germany, France and Belgium and certainly lower than those in the UK and the US.

Thanks to a high standard of care and prevention, including the large-scale dispensation of methadone and clean hypodermics, the number of hard drug (heroin or cocaine) addicts, stabilised about 10 years ago, at the level of 2.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. This means that the Netherlands is among the three countries, after Finland and Germany, with the smallest number of problem addicts in the European Union. Although not an ideal policy, bearing in mind our objective of harm limitation, our drugs policy is reasonably successful.

Coffee shop policy is administered locally. Many of the petty criminal problems surrounding the coffee shops can be traced back to the fact that local administrators and police did not really know how the policy should be pursued. Hardly surprising since the coffee shops are still operating in an administrative no-man's land. Sales of cannabis "at the front door" are not legal, but they are tolerated. However, purchases "at the back door" do not fall under this policy of tolerance. In practice, this means that the coffee shop owner is forced to buy the cannabis on the illegal market. Therefore something that is forbidden is nonetheless tolerated. The mayors, police chiefs and politicians continue to support the concept and there is debate now about allowing a system of cultivation of cannabis to supply a limited number of coffee shops.

Closing the coffee shops would certainly lead to an increase in dealing on the streets, in private homes and in school playgrounds. This would undoubtedly be accompanied by hard drug sales, while the rate of use among the population would not decline, bearing in mind the figures for use in other countries.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee