DECRIMINALIZATION IN AMSTERDAM

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Introduction One of the most popular Dutch exports is Marijuana, It ranks 3rd amongst other Dutch exports after cucumber and tomatoes. In Netherlands the sale of the soft drugs that includes marijuana is legalized, however the cultivation of cannabis the derivative for marijuana is illegal. (https://www.encod.org ) The government has in recent months come down hard on the sites where there is active cultivation of cannabis. In 2007 about 15 sites per day were closed down by police leading to a total closure of 5,500 sites. (Bieleman B and Goeree P 122) 'Dutch-grown cannabis is much stronger than the traditional cannabis grown in Morocco, Lebanon and Pakistan'. (Bieleman B and Goeree P 123) Despite of the crackdowns, the soft drugs market in Netherlands heavily depends on the produce from within the country. Marijuana or hashish use in Amsterdam is legal and is readily available in coffee-shops that dot the capital but drugs like cocaine, heroine and so on are illegal. One is allowed to use the hard drugs so long as the drugs have been tested at government authorized facilities. Apart from such hard drugs, almost everything else in Amsterdam is legal; this includes live sex shows, prostitution, and pornography and shops that sell phonographic materials like magazines, toys and videos. In 2007 alone about 730 of these coffee shops were estimated to have sold 265,000kgs of the soft drugs mainly grown in the country. According to police estimates about 60-80% of the cannabis grown in Netherlands is exported with the rest being sold in the local market. (Bieleman B and Goeree P 123) The government on the other hand gains tremendously from the sale of the drug in the coffee shops. Estimates reveal that the Dutch government rakes in over $617 million in value added tax (VAT) from the sales that the coffee shops make. On the national scale, the total turnover for the sale of the soft drugs is estimated at $3.2 billion (2 billion euros) only comparable to that one of the Dutch public transport. The growers gain as well, the coffee shops pay up to 5,000 euros per kilo of cannabis depending on the quality (www.encod.org). The law in Netherlands discriminates between the soft and hard drugs. Everyone above the age of 18 can use marijuana at will. According to the law the daily maximum use is limited to 5 grams in the municipality and the controlled coffee shops. In short the Dutch drug policy is based on two principles (i) Drug use is not a criminal matter but a healthy issue (ii) Existence of the distinction of soft drugs and hard drugs The policy in Netherlands is therefore very pragmatic compared to other countries like the US. The view of the policy makers is that if a problem cannot be stopped, controlling is better than trying to enforce laws that stop its usage altogether. In most cases the laws are not able to contain the situation; in fact research has continued to show that the problem seems to increase. The liberal policy in Netherlands has not gone down well with many other countries. It is worthwhile to note that in Netherlands possession and production of Cannabis for personal use is still a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine and according to the statutes the coffee shops are illegal as well. However courts have always ruled against prosecuted cases relying more on the policy of non-enforcement. According to the Netherlands policy of tolerance known as 'gedoogbelied' that is enforced by the Ministry of Justice, prosecutors are given guidelines on circumstances of not prosecuting offenders. This policy in a way 'offers more consistency in legal protection in practice.' In the Dutch courts 'the institutionalized non-enforcement with well defined limits constitutes de-facto decriminalization'. Most of these statutes are in books only due to international pressure'. (Leuw E, Marshall 122) This means that soft drug use is not prohibited on the 'principle that it is not illegal to hurt yourself', but the consequences of your actions remain with you. Consequently the users of cannabis are not liable for prosecution for the possession of small quantities of the drug if it is for personal use. However from a public nuisance perspective, it is illegal to drive or operate machinery while under the influence of the drug, thus prohibited. (Leuw E, Marshall 123) Therefore in Netherlands the coffee shops can sell the soft drugs openly and 'keep more supplies than the amounts allowed by the law for personal use.' The suppliers of cannabis on the other hand are criminalized because the law defines 'personal use' as 5 cannabis plants per person for growing or the possession of up to a maximum of 5 grams person of hashish. The production, the importation and exportation or the dealing of cannabis in a large scale is therefore normally dealt seriously with by law even if the supplies go to the coffee shops. This is quite contradictory because the coffee shops are never investigated as to where they get their supplies from. Thus the coffee shops get their supplies from criminal elements who do not distinguish hard or soft drugs, because they are motivated by profit (Leuw E, Marshall 123). By failing to address this serious discrepancy in the cultivation and supply of the drug, it has made the illegal trade to flourish, turning Netherlands into a flourishing drug trafficking European hub. To combat the menace, various Dutch parliamentarians have proposed the enactment of a law that will create or legalize the cultivation and production of the drug albeit in a highly controlled environment. However because of judicial impediments nothing has been done so far. (MacCoun R J & Reuter P 47) The government has given a high priority on the fight against drug trafficking but the country still remains a major producer, consumer, exporter and transit point of drugs. The government spends over 130 million euros per annum in support of rehabilitation centers for addicts and the number has stabilized over the years. Compared to other European countries, the number of deaths as a result of drug use in Netherlands is one of the lowest in Europe. Netherlands is a signatory to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic of Narcotic drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The cultivation and trade of national drugs like cannabis is prohibited by the 1961 convention, the 1971 convention on the other hand bans the manufacture and trafficking of such drugs as barbituates and amphetamines and the 1988 convention calls for the signatory country to criminalize the possession of the illicit drugs. (Leuw E, Marshall 125) The conventions in essence therefore, make it a must for all the states party to the conventions to prosecute cases of possession of drugs. According to these conventions the use of the controlled drugs should only be used for medical or scientific purposes. The conventions however have certain gaps and loopholes that such countries like Netherlands have exploited to the fullest. Here the anti-drug laws do exist but in books; to avoid any form of international criticism. Otherwise the limiting enforcement of certain offenses is designed to reduce harm from the drug use. (MacCoun R J & Reuter P 48) Effects of Decriminalization It is usually suggested that decriminalizing of the use of marijuana always leads to a greater abuse of the drug and can lead to the use of other hard drugs as well. However according to a study done by Professor Craig Reinarman of the University of California, Santa Cruz, comparing the uses of drugs in San-Francisco and Amsterdam revealed the decriminalization does not lead to more widespread use. (http://www.mapinc.org ) Many anti-drug activists often argue that the use of Marijuana is the first step towards the use of other harder drugs like cocaine and heroine. The report actually showed this is not true and revealed that decriminalization in a way reduces the so called 'gateway effect.' (www.drugpolicy.org) While Marijuana was decriminalized in Amsterdam in 1976 and is available in coffee shops for purchase, in the US the usage of Marijuana or any other illicit drug is prohibited and carries a stiff criminal penalty. In 2001 alone, approximately 770,000 people were arrested for drug related crimes. (http://www.mapinc.org ) The research was done between 1994 and 1999 amongst 500 marijuana users who had used the drug for more than 25 times in their lifetime. The main purpose of the study was 'to test the premise that punishment for cannabis use deters use and thereby benefits public health' (http://www.ucsc.edu ) The study came up with the following report: Summary - In Amsterdam and San-Francisco the figures revealed the mean age of onset use to be 16.95 years and 16.43 respectively - 19.11 years and 18.81 years for Amsterdam and San-Francisco respectively was the mean age when the users began using marijuana more than once per month. - The repot indicated that on average 2 years was the number of years the respondents started the period of maximum use after regular use in both cities. Thus Amsterdam was 21.46 years and San Francisco 21.98 years. - 75% of the respondents in the two cities used cannabis less than once weekly or did not use at all in the year prior to the study. - Most of the experienced respondents did not use the drug on a daily basis or even in large amounts during the 'peak periods' and after the peak period the use often declined. This was observed in both cities. (Cohen PDA & Sas A 56) From the highlights of the study it is evident that there is no great difference despite the fact that in Amsterdam the use is decriminalized and in San Francisco it is criminalized. There was no much difference in the starting age, age of regular use and the age of the start of maximum use. (http://www.mapinc.org ) Also according to the study decriminalization of the use of marijuana does not in any way provide the 'gate-way' effect to the use of other illicit drugs. In actual sense in San Francisco the users were more predisposed to the use of other illicit drugs that included crack, ecstasy, opiates, amphetamines and cocaine than their Amsterdam counterparts (http://www.ucsc.edu ) According to another research done in the towns of Tilburg (in South Holland) and Utrecht (the forth largest city) the estimated number of Cannabis users in the entire country of 15 million people stands between 200,000 400,000 users representing a paltry 1.7% - 3% of the total population above 12 years. (Leuw E, Marshall 123) This particular research also shows that there is low usage of other hard drugs and if any, the use is more experimental rather than regular use. In Utrecht the use stood at 6.8% of the population and Tilburg it stood at 3.2% percent. These studies are according to survey by the Centre for Drug Research (CEDRO) at the University of Amsterdam. (Leuw E, Marshall 123) Also on the same research, investigations were done on the number of non users of the drugs including alcohol and tobacco. It showed that a fifth of the population in Amsterdam had

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