Stein: Drug regulation is not the answer
Regulating drugs will only increase our problems. The Netherlands has to rethink its attitude towards drugs.
In 1996, the French senator Jean Louis Masson wrote that Europe should not
tolerate the continued existence of a 'narco-state' . He was talking about
the Netherlands. Dutch politicians were up in arms, but there was some truth
to Masson's remarks. Every year, the Netherlands’ 700 coffee shops bring in
approximately 400 million euros in taxes. Drug tourism is also a cash cow.
Amsterdam alone draws a million tourists to its coffee shops every year. The
Dutch narco-state makes some 2.2 billion euros per year on export of super
Now former European commissioner Frits Bolkestein and others have argued that the government should regulate the production and sale of illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin. In Bolkestein's brave new world this would result in more income for the state, increased security and improved public health. Are these assumptions correct? The answer is no on all counts.
It may seem like a joke, but the Dutch elite seems serious about moving towards regulation - meaning state-controlled drug manufacturing and trade. A 2008 report by a research institute said, "the fight against organised crime and the reduction of nuisance associated with the production and trafficking of cannabis would benefit from a regulated supply of cannabis for personal use." Job Cohen, possibly the next prime minister, has also expressed approval.
Current plans merely seek to provide for the Dutch market, but according to police statistics, 80 to 90 percent of marijuana cultivated in the Netherlands is intended for export. Regulating the domestic market will therefore have a minimal effect on organised crime. Criminals will even see lucrative business opportunities in government-certified drugs of top-notch quality. Government and law enforcement will have to go to extreme lengths to ensure the sale of these products to minors and foreigners is kept at a minimum. A lot of taxpayers money will be required to prevent this foolish experiment from getting completely out of hand.
The supposedly beneficial effect on public health is also highly doubtful. If the government oversees the production and the sale of drugs, young people might come to think drugs could never be that bad. Bolkestein et al. point to the Dutch tolerance policy. They claim that drug use is more prevalent in so-called repressive countries than it is here. But in fact the countries he mentions – England, France and the US – effectively have tolerance policies of their own, a fact that can partly be blamed on the Dutch narco state's incessant export of drugs. A country like Sweden, where drugs are strictly controlled, has the lowest levels of drug use of the entire EU. The Dutch tolerance policy has been a dismal failure in the domain of public health, not a ringing success. In the tolerant Netherlands, the number of young people who use drugs and get into trouble as a result is relatively high, while repressive countries like Romania and Greece see very little use.
Bolkestein et al. claim that alcohol and cigarettes cause far more damage to public health than illegal drugs do. This way of thinking, which portrays drug use as something relatively innocent, has done our country a great deal of harm. It has not only allowed organised crime to flourish, but has also lowered the threshold for Dutch youth to begin using drugs. Many get into trouble as a result, and a significant number will never recover. To develop a better drug policy, we should stop downplaying the seriousness and scale of the problems caused by drugs. We should stop believing the harmful myths. Only once we realise that cannabis is not a 'soft drug', that our youth need not experiment with drugs, and that our tolerance policy is not something we should be proud of, can we begin to put an end to the Dutch narco-state.