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January 26, 1995

Dutch Justice Minister Wants to "Regulate" Marijuana Supply

        In a January 21 interview with the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (The People's Newspaper) published in The Hague, the capital of The Netherlands, the Dutch Minister of Justice, Mrs. Winnie Sorgdrager, said she wants to "regulate the supply of cannabis products" being sold in more than 1,300 coffeeshops around the country.

        The article explained that Sorgdrager is following her party's opinion "that the current policy allowing retail sale of marijuana and hashish has to have its logical sequel in arranging the supply of the products..."

        Dutch policy is that "the sale of cannabis products at the 'frontdoor' of the coffeeshops is tolerated by the Justice ministry but the supply at the 'back door', or even more, large scale production, are strictly prohibited.  Criminals have therefore taken over that part of the market."  Sorgdrager said that she believes that "we have to dispose of this hypocrisy about that back and front door."  She is working with her colleagues in the Health Ministry on a Drug Report to be issued this summer.

        Most of the hashish sold is still imported (smuggled in), but most of the marijuana is now grown in the Netherlands.  The smuggling is especially dominated by violence-prone gangs from North Africa and Lebanon.  The article goes on to explain that "Sorgdrager is seriously considering a division and regulation of the cannabis market...." separating the domestic cannabis from imported hashish smuggled in by criminals from abroad.  The objective is to create a means of supplying the Dutch market while preventing exports.

        The Dutch have followed the current policy for many years, so if there were any serious social or individual health problems associated with cannabis use, it would have become obvious by now.  It is also worth noting that, until recently, most of the cannabis consumed was imported hashish which is much more potent than most marijuana.  This means that the "new potent marijuana" line pushed by the DEA has no relevance to the Dutch experience or to the supposed threat posed to America by the average marijuana consumed today which -- according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse -- is between 3 and 4%, far below the average for hashish.

        The article also explained that Sorgdrager does not want to use the terms "liberalization" or "legalization" but prefers to use the term "regulation."  The Dutch have long been pressured by France, Belgium and the United States to arrest marijuana users, but the Germans, Swiss and others in Europe are moving toward the Dutch model.  The Dutch policy generally is to try to reduce the level of violence in their country, which nationwide has about half as many murders as does Washington, D.C., alone.  Amsterdam is slightly larger than Washington, but has less than one tenth the number of murders.

        On January 12th, NORML carried an exclusive report on the protests by the Dutch government to the United States concerning misrepresentations by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regarding Dutch drug policies and their social consequences.  The DEA has not yet responded.  The statement by the Dutch Justice Minister has also been ignored by the American media, while The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial today entitled "Eighth Grade Potheads."  If the editorial's hysteria was well founded The Netherlands should resemble the United States, Bosnia, or some other violence ridden society and should have a very high rate of marijuana use and hard drug addiction.  Just the opposite is the case.

        While American prohibitionists commonly claim that "the Dutch legalized drugs and it did not work," in fact all drugs remain illegal in The Netherlands.  As is the case in the U.S., most Dutch "drug related" violence is the result of prohibition, not of the drugs themselves -- except for alcohol -- again as in the U.S.  While it is Dutch policy to tolerate the small scale sale and possession of cannabis, -- and no one is arrested for the possession of personal amounts of any other drug -- the sale of hard drugs is vigorously prosecuted.  Any "cannabis coffeeshop" which is suspected of selling hard drugs is closed immediately.  One of the primary objectives of the "coffeeshop" policy is to separate cannabis from the hard drugs.

        This policy has been very successful, hence the DEA opposition to it. Maintaining the connection between marijuana and hard drugs is a vital component of U.S. drug policy.  This is the basis for the claims that marijuana is a "stepping stone", "threshold", "gateway" to using other drugs.  The success of Dutch policy demonstrates that this is just the opposite of the truth, so the Dutch policy must be misrepresented until they can be pressured into merging the drug markets through blanket prohibition as has been done in the U.S.

        In fact, very few marijuana users in America ever become hard drug users, but the ratio is even lower in The Netherlands.  Ironically, marijuana use by Dutch teenagers is much lower than in the U.S.  Over 30% of U.S. high school seniors have used marijuana in the last year, while only 12% of Dutch 18 year olds have ever used cannabis.  It is Dutch policy to strongly discourage teenage cannabis use through honest drug education that is credible and effective -- because it does not exaggerate in order to frighten politicians, editorialists and other impressionable subgroups.

        Richard Cowan, the National Director of NORML, announced today that NORML will begin a program to encourage American opinion leaders -- and ordinary citizens -- to visit The Netherlands to see for themselves the success of Dutch cannabis policy.  "When Americans ask what would happen if we legalized marijuana, they don't have to use their imaginations to find out.  They can just use their passports.  Americans certainly don't need to go to Holland to get marijuana, but they should go to Holland to be reminded of what we all used to know: FREEDOM WORKS."

        (For more information on marijuana potency, Dutch cannabis policy, the "gateway" theory, and surveys on American and Dutch teenage drug use, contact Allen St. Pierre at NORML 202-483-5300).