Everyone I've talked with in Amsterdam agrees that pot should never be bought on the street. Well-established coffeeshops are considered much safer, as coffee¬shop owners have an incentive to keep their trade safe and healthy.
The Dutch are not necessarily "pro-marijuana." In fact, most have never tried it or even set foot in a coffeeshop. They just don't think the state has any business preventing the people who want it from getting it in a sensible way. To appease Dutch people who aren't comfortable with marijuana, an integral component of the coffeeshop system is discretion. It's bad form to smoke marijuana openly while walking down the street. Dutch people who don't like pot don't have to encounter or even smell it. And towns that don't want coffeeshops don't have them. Occasionally a coffeeshop license will not be renewed in a particular neighborhood, as the city wants to keep a broad smattering of shops (away from schools) rather than a big concentration in any one area.
Statistics support the Dutch belief that their more pragmatic system removes crime from the equation without unduly increasing consumption: After 30 years of handling marijuana this way, Dutch experts in the field of drug-abuse prevention agree that, while marijuana use has increased slightly, it has not increased more than in other Europeans countries where pot-smokers are being arrested (according to a 2005 study, 23 percent of Dutch people have used pot, compared to 23 percent of Germans and 30 percent of French). And for you nervous parents: The Dutch have seen no significant change in marijuana consumption among teens (who, according to both US and EU government statistics, smoke pot at half the US rate). Meanwhile, in the US, many teens report that it's easier for them to buy marijuana than tobacco or alcohol — because they don't get carded when buying something illegally.
It's interesting to compare European use to the situation back home, where marijuana laws are strictly enforced. According to Forbes Magazine, 25 million Americans currently use marijuana (federal statistics indicate that one in three Americans has used marijuana at some point), which makes it a $113 billion untaxed industry in our country. The FBI reports that about 40 percent of the roughly 1.8 million annual drug arrests in the US are for marijuana — the vast majority (89 percent) for simple possession...that means users, not dealers.
Many Dutch people believe that their pot policies have also contributed to the fact that they have fewer hard drug problems than other countries. The thinking goes like this: A certain segment of the population will experiment with drugs regardless. The coffeeshop scene allows this safely, with soft drugs. Police see the coffeeshops as a firewall separating soft drug use from hard drug abuse in their communities. If there is a dangerous chemical being pushed on the streets, for example, the police (with the help of coffeeshop proprietors) communicate to the drug-taking part of their society via the coffeeshops. When considering the so-called "gateway" effect of marijuana, the only change the police have seen in local heroin use is that the average age of a Dutch needle addict is getting older. In fact, the Dutch believe marijuana only acts as a "gateway" drug when it is illegal — because then, young people have no option but to buy it from pushers on the street, who have an economic incentive to get them hooked on more expensive and addictive hard drugs.
The hope and hunch is that people go through their drug-experimentation phase innocently with pot, and then the vast majority move on in life without getting sucked into harder, more dangerous drugs. Again, the numbers bear this out: Surveys show that more than three times as many Americans (1.4%) report to having tried heroin as Dutch people (0.4%).
About This Entry
You are reading "Dutch Opinion about Their Marijuana Policy", an entry posted on 05 February 2010 by Rick Steves.