failure of Dutch drug policy
According to a
programme, broadcast by the Dutch Netwerk-TV on March 12,
2000 it's obvious that there is increasing, domestic criticism of
the Dutch drug policy.
This unique television programme is the first to
'allow' massive domestic criticism of what the advocates of a
'tolerant' drug policy have defined as "innovative and
Having watched the programme and heard the
comments by high-profile Dutch officials, the alleged success of the
Dutch drug policy rather seems to be the result of uncontrolled
tolerance in combination with lack of knowledge. Result: Holland's
Half-Baked Drug Experiment.
In this release, HNN gives a summary of the
facts and statements from the Dutch television programme.
In the programme, it's stated that Amsterdam, the
No.1 Dutch tourist attraction, has 210 so-called coffee shops where
cannabis products are freely available and 75 so-called hash-bars -
establishments frequently visited by large number of drug tourists.
Officials from the Netherlands are of the opinion that the country
handles its drug policy in a 'mature' way and scientists and
officials are even proud of the country's drug policy.
from the University of Amsterdam thinks that tolerance is an
excellent way of handling the drug problem, even if the future
development is unknown. Cohen says tolerance keeps people away from
prison and also alleviates (sic!) social problems.
According to Netwerk:
The Netherlands is the No 1. producer of
The Netherlands has marijuana cultivations of
The Netherlands is a transit country for heroin
Criminals make a lot of money from the drug
Larry Collins, an
author and investigative journalist [who wrote
Holland´s Half-baked Drug Experiment, published in the May/June
1999 issue of the U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs; for your free,
printed copy in English, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian and/or
Russian, send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org ] says in the programme that he thinks the
heart of the problem is that the coffee shop policy and the soft
drug policy has engendered a wider framework of tolerance and
leniency towards other drugs, towards cocaine, heroin and Ecstasy.
In the programme Collins points out that 80 per cent of the heroin
seized in the United Kingdom in 1998 either was transited via the
Netherlands or was stored there before it arrived into the United
Kingdom. Similarly, 80 per cent of the heroin seized in France came
via the Netherlands. The British Customs estimate that 95 per cent
of the Ecstasy tablets consumed in the UK, came out of Holland. The
French set that figure at 73.6 per cent. That's why, Collins said,
you are the drug capital of Western Europe.
Of course Collin's findings didn't please the
Netherlands and the Dutch ambassador in New York expressed his
displeasure by reacting in Foreign Affairs saying that Collin's
article was not meant to promote a serious debate.
In the Netwerk programme Collins said that he was
told that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was just enraged and provided
Dutch embassies with information saying that you must do something
to stop this terrible propaganda against our enlightened drug
Netwerk: The name 'Nederweed'
is a contraction of Nederland and weed. Nederweed is produced only
in Holland. In every other European country the growth of weed is
forbidden. In Holland also, but here Police and justice blink facts.
Jaap de Vlieger, Head of the Rotterdam Police
Drug Squad: I myself
plead for: Stop that tolerance policy. It's the strangest thing we
have, because it means that the problem is unmanageable. We really
should stop that policy of tolerance.
Netwerk: And this
is Rob Hessing, ex-chief commissioner of the Rotterdam Police.
Nowadays he is a member of the Dutch Embassy in Paris.
Hessing: Tolerance - that sounds quite
plausible, but it is connected with great dangers, because in the
long run you cannot survey what you tolerate. You cannot at all
manage the situation.
Netwerk: 1976 - the
beginning of the tolerance policy. Drug use is no longer punishable.
'Soft' drugs are obtainable in youth centres. The aim is to keep
youngsters using 'soft' drugs away from 'hard' drugs. This policy is
called the separation of markets.
T. Blom, Erasmus University, Rotterdam:
The separation of the markets means that you
tolerate the small scale dealing in 'soft' drugs whereas you try to
tackle the 'hard' drugs market with all possible juridical means.
Netwerk: In 1976,
Minister Irene Vorrink [of the Labour Party] was responsible for
public health. She is the mother of Koos Zwart, in those days a
notorious VARA-radio man.
Koos Zwart: There
is still an enormous atmosphere of illegality. It is still a habit
of several people to state that Mafiosi or Chinese people are behind
the entire drug scene in Holland.
T. Blom, Erasmus University, Rotterdam:
The notorious son of Irene Vorrink, Koos
Zwart, in those days broadcast market reports by radio, in which he
indicated the street value of any kind of cannabis of the market in
Amsterdam. I cannot help having the impression that he severely
influenced the views of his mother, in those days minister of public
health, responsible for the drug policy.
Netwerk: The goal
of Vorrink´s policy was to keep youngsters away from 'hard' drugs.
Did it work out? Here are the figures of the Trimbos Institute, the
public health advisory body. Heroin use among pupils in 1997
averaged 1 per cent. Cocaine use among pupils in 1997, 4 per cent,
(second only after the U.S.). Amphetamine use among pupils in 1997:
8 per cent (third place after UK and the U.S.) and finally the
popular 'hard' drug Ecstasy, 8 per cent (second after Ireland).
Jaap de Vlieger, Rotterdam:
The figures of both cocaine and Ecstasy should
make us scratch our heads.
figures of the Trimbos Institute are supported by those of the
European Drug Centre in Lisbon.
opinion of Peter Cohen of the University of Amsterdam has for twenty
years been important to the Ministry of Public Health. He all by
himself makes objections against the investigation methods of the
Trimbos Institute, including its figures, which he says are
Peter Cohen: These
figures are, as far as people think they represent the Dutch
cannot imagine that others say the same about his criticism.
another aspect - our government is not aware of the harm of
cannabis. So far the government is of the opinion that cannabis is
not harmful, or hardly cause any harm to someone's health. Why?
J. Walburg, Manager of the Jellinek Clinic: So far, almost no
investigations have been made about the effects of cannabis and
about the consequences of increasing the active element, THC, in
cannabis. We don't know exactly what the consequences are of these
new types of cannabis. There are almost no investigations in the
field of the relationship between psychiatric problems and the use
of cannabis, although we badly need such knowledge to understand
what it means to tolerate cannabis in our society.
Netwerk: What is
the reason for this lack of investigations?
J. Walburg: The problem is not experienced
as a 'problem'. You do not investigate matters that are not
considered to be a problem.
Netwerk: Would you
welcome such investigations?
J. Walburg: Yes, it´s absolutely needed -
not only for ourselves but also for our position against other
countries. That position is constantly at risk because we are so
afraid and restrain reports about the consequences of the liberal
approach to the law on cannabis.
supporters of a more liberal drugs policy do not honour Jellinek´s
Peter Cohen: Drug
experts in Holland always contradict each other. You know in advance
what people from inside the drug addiction scene are going to say,
i.e. there is always a lack of information and a lot of problems are
still to be investigated.
Netwerk: And what
about the Jellinek Clinic in that respect?
Peter Cohen: The
Jellinek is of course a large balloon, floating on the atmosphere of
this perception of the problem.
condemns everybody - Jellinek, Trimbos, Jaad de Vlieger, the police
- all of them are good for nothing.
T. Blom: The 1976
tolerance drug policy was profiled as follows:
they think about the idea that large-scale sale would be possible?
T. Blom: I have
never, in any document whatsoever, found any indication about the
possibility that this might become a commercial business. They were
not at all thinking about that.
Rob Hessing: And that has become a
phenomenon about which we say that we always tolerated it. But in
fact we began to tolerate youth centres [where 'soft' drugs were
sold], then we tolerated the fact that criminals took over the
business and became wealthy and finally we almost tolerated the
implementation of organised crime.
police officers are of the same opinion as Rob Hessing.
Jaap de Vlieger, Rotterdam:
Since 1976, the tracing and persecution of
cannabis product delinquents has had a low priority. We have had
different priorities - there are more dangerous things demanding our
Netwerk: Such as
Jaap de Vlieger, Rotterdam:
Such as heroin, cocaine etc.
That's, you see, why criminal
organisations have flourished by dealing in products to which police
and justice didn´t pay almost any attention.
Rob Hessing: They
started to make profits and when others noticed this there were
organisations thinking - That business is very profitable. They
started to make it in a professional way - a youth centre becomes a
coffee shop, and finally it goes beyond all bounds.
Netwerk: Ending up
with the Bruinsma, 'Hakkelaar' and Zwolsman cases.
Netwerk: The criminal organisations
have become very wealthy by, among other things, supplying stocks of
'soft' drugs to coffee shops. In fact it is forbidden. However,
police and justice hardly took notice of the supply to coffee shops.
The professional description of it reads: Tolerating the illegal
back door of the coffee shop.
Rob Hessing: It is
extremely difficult for me to explain the front door - back door
policy. It causes me to perform a complex gymnastic stunt. When I
arrived in Paris, I started to think about what I was going to talk
about. In order to prevent myself from getting stuck, I didn't start
with explanations of our drug policy. I started to talk about
safety, which consequently led to discussions about the drug
countries do not understand that drug dealing result in relatively
light punishment in Holland. And Justice knows that it is a problem.
The Public Prosecutor in the 'Hakkelaar' case in
1997: If our society wants to combat organised crime and the
organised wholesale of drugs, and at the same time is of the opinion
that the Dutch drug policy should be maintained and be acceptable to
foreign countries, then something should quickly be done when it
comes to the maximum punishment. Years ago, investigators indicated
C. Steinmetz, Investigator: At the beginning of 1995 I was
asked by the Ministry of Justice to estimate how much money
circulates in the 'world of soft drugs', in the world of hashish and
Netwerk: What was the result of that
C. Steinmetz: It was totally embarrassing to
me. It was quite clear that Dutchmen are rather dealers than
smokers. The result was - About 19 billion guilders (US $8.4
billion) are circulating in the world of hashish and marijuana but
only 0.8 billion (US $0.35 billion) guilders in Holland are spent on
Netwerk: After the publication, the
Ministry of Health appeared to be quite unhappy with Steinmetz'
C. Steinmetz: If I am allowed to say so, in
fact nothing happened with this investigation. The Ministry of
Public Health did not welcome my figures although they are
responsible for the health aspects, and that's why they so fully
co-operated with the tolerance policy. That means - To guarantee
that people can smoke in a kind of 'legal' atmosphere. However, they
were not aware that they possibly were the instigators of criminal
Netwerk: Is the
Ministry of Public Health co-responsible for the increase of heavy
criminality? General Manager P. Pennekamp, top official in the drug
policy field, is opposed to that. Drugs and criminality are found
everywhere, aren't they?
Pennekamp: I think
that we meet with any kind of organised crime when it comes to drugs
- In Holland, a country with a tolerant policy, as well as in
Bruinsma, alias 'The Reverend', killed 10 years ago; Etienne U, his
successor, John V., alias 'The Stutterer' and also ex-racer Charles
Zwolsman all have one thing in common - The became wealthy from
their trade in drugs. In order to get a grip on such large dealers,
police about 1990 set up a special unit called IRT, allowing the
import of large quantities of both 'soft' drugs and 'hard' drugs in
order to check the activities of such dealers and to arrest them.
However, such a scheme is not in compliance with the law.
Rob Hessing: What
started in youth centres became more and more criminal. On the one
hand - tolerating drug users and maintaining the same policy for 20
years, even considering it progressive, without innovating anything.
On the other hand - let the Police and Justice fight against drugs.
This resulted in an enormous clash, known as the 'IRT Affair'.
Parliament investigation into the 'IRT Affair', led by Maarten van
Traa was meant to check the infiltration techniques of the police.
Van Traa: If, for
reasons of credibility, it is necessary to allow the import of hash,
then I agree.
Netwerk: The police
were the only ones in the dock. The government itself was absent,
which was striking as it was the government, by engendering its
tolerance policy, which allowed heavy criminality to expend and
become wealthy. However, there was nothing about that fact in the
report of the Van Traa Committee. Otto Vos, member of the Van Traa
Committee for the Liberal Party tried, together with Koekkoek from
the Christian Democrats to get this conclusion [about the
Government's responsibility] into the Van Traa report.
Otto Vos: The Van Traa Committee had
paid attention to the relationship between the 'soft' drug policy
and the increase of criminality in the Netherlands. It was
established that because the hashish trade was left undisturbed in
the 70´s and 80´s, a large amount of organised criminality arose.
The minority position of Koekkoek and myself was directed at getting
that clearly expressed in the Van Traa report.
Netwerk: Why was it
[the comments by Koekkoek and Vos] refused?
Otto Vos: A number
of members of the Committee, including Van Traa himself, were
opposed to it.
Netwerk: We have
called Professor Koekkoek of the Christian Democrats and he
acknowledges Vos' conclusion
Otto Vos: The
conclusion that the policy of tolerance has resulted in heavy forms
of criminality has been very briefly expressed in the Van Traa
Netwerk: It didn´t
get that much attention from society. How do you explain that?
Otto Vos: The 'soft' drug policy has a
high ideological impact in Holland. So when a direct relationship
between the 'soft' drug policy and the rise of organised criminality
is presented, it's a very painful experience, both to establish and
to admit. I think they don't like to hear that. However, it is the
Netwerk: Maybe they
didn't want to start a discussion about that?
T. Blom: It seems
to be the case...that they didn't want to discuss once again the
issues framed in 1976.
C. Steinmetz: In
short we may say: By means of the way in which the 'soft' drug
policy has been framed. Holland has contributed to a situation where
criminals got a fantastic chance to deal drugs.
Netwerk: Do you
agree with the foreign critics in their criticism of the Dutch
'soft' drug policy?
C. Steinmetz: Yes, because they gradually
discovered that all trails went via Holland - either direct via
Holland, or via, let's say, via Dutch organisations working abroad.
Netwerk: 25 years'
experience of policy of tolerance and Holland has not got fewer
'hard' rug users than countries without a policy of tolerance. We
have a 'prominent' position in the trade of all kinds of drugs and a
great attraction on drug tourists from all over the world. Yet
Holland is still fond of its role as a 'pioneer'. However, not any
country takes our 'drug experiment' seriously.
Rob Hessing: I
think that we may blame ourselves. We have for a long time advocated
our 'progressive' policy. However, we may conclude that we came to a
standstill in the 70s and 80s.
J. Walburg: Seen
from an international perspective we cannot join the discussion in
an authoritative way because every time people think - Your talk is
charming but you produce drugs and our children go to your country
to by drugs.... that kind of business. What I mean is that this
causes our initiatives to get stuck. That's why I say that we should
try, when taking an initiative, to find partners in Germany, or in
France, or in Belgium because we don't need to launch all the
arguments for a change of drug policy.
Netwerk: It took 25
years to openly criticise our 'holy' policy of tolerance - A policy
that didn't succeed in keeping youngsters away from 'hard' drugs - A
policy that made it possible for criminal organisations to increase
their wealth by billions.
It is said that ideologies have disappeared, that
they no longer exist. But take a look at the discussion about the
drug policy and you will certainly get the impression that facts and
figures are apparently less important than ideology.
The Dutch Minister of Justice, Mr. Korthals,
was 'unhappy' with the comments made by Mr. Hessing in Paris. "He
should not have expressed his comments in Netwerk-TV on
Sunday…Policy has to be primarily announced by ministers." This
seems to be valid only when there is negative criticism of the Dutch
drug policy. Usually the Dutch Government has nothing against their
foreign diplomats advocating the 'Dutch model'.
It is a positive sign that there is now
increasing domestic criticism of the devastating Dutch drug policy.