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Netherlands Revises Drug Policy


THE HAGUE, Sept 15 (Reuter) - The Netherlands, which tolerates the use of soft drugs like cannabis, on Friday signalled a tougher approach to hard drugs.

Acknowledging that drug-related offences and links with organised crime are on the increase, the government said it planned to build more jail cells and step up existing mandatory drug rehabilitation programmes.

But it made clear it will continue to tolerate its famous coffee shops, where marijuana and cannabis are sold openly, and the growing of home-grown cannabis.

The proposals will moderate a 20-year social experiment that involved tolerating soft drugs and viewing hard-drug users as people needing help rather than as criminals.

It turned Amsterdam into a mecca for Europe's drug-seeking youth while critics said it allowed organised crime to flourish.

It angered neighbouring countries and France threatened to block the Schengen agreement on open borders because of the flow of drugs from the Netherlands.

``The cabinet rejects legalisation of soft and hard drugs,'' the Dutch government said in a review of its drugs policy.

``Tracking and prosecuting drug traffickers, particularly those with cross-border operations, will continue to be given top priority by the Dutch police and the judiciary,'' it said.

It signalled a tougher stand against so-called drug tourists who flock in to buy cheap, readily available heroin and cocaine. The cabinet insisted, however, that it would continue to treat addicts as people who need help rather than as criminals and will also maintain distinct policies on hard and soft drugs.

The proposals recommend providing free heroin to chronic addicts under a trial scheme to be launched in Rotterdam.

Justice Minister Winnie Sorgdrager told Dutch television: ``None of us advocates the use of drugs, nor tobacco or alcohol, but we know that they are used.''

``Bona fide coffee shops have proved their worth,'' the government said, but it added that the amount of cannabis these shops would be allowed to sell for personal use would be cut to five grammes per transaction from 30 grammes.

``Provided the strictest conditions are met, the police and judiciary will not take active action against the small-scale growing of Dutch-grown cannabis,'' the government said.

Lovers of home-grown Dutch grass -- known as Nederweed or ``skunk'' on the streets -- have claimed this will help keep organised crime out of the soft drugs business.

``We have 675,000 regular soft drug users in The Netherlands, but even so there are only 25,000 hard drugs addicts,'' Health Minister Els Borst said.

``These figures confirm our view that if one keeps the two markets separate it becomes possible that people use soft drugs, sometimes experimenting with them for years -- and then stop.''

``Stopping (using soft drugs) is also easier because no physical dependency is created. (Soft drug users) may do this without stepping up to hard drugs,'' she said.


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