government adopted a liberal attitude to cannabis use and the use of drugs, in
the 1970's. They allowed cannabis to be sold from youth centres and coffee
shops, predominantly in Amsterdam and did not prosecute for possession. This
was also an attempt to divorce the supply of cannabis from that of drugs. The
coffee shops left the hard drug dealers out and kept them out. Meanwhile the
liberal attitude to drug takers and addicts manifested by considering such
people as patients rather than criminals, giving them true education and a
clean supply. This did not wean many drug users off drugs, but it did clean up
the supply, take it out of the hands of heroin dealers and reduce risks of
overdose or death or illness from impurities.
The result of the Dutch experiment was to see that whilst the number of
cannabis users initially increased it soon levelled off in about 1983. The use
of hard drugs did not increase as fast in Holland as it did in neighbouring
countries such as France, Germany and the UK. One thing which did develop was
the appearance of the 'cannabis tourist', people from other countries visiting
Holland for cannabis. This actually brought revenue to the Dutch and was
welcome. Of course if the same situation existed in other countries this may
never have happened. The Dutch report that cannabis use causes no social
problems. In 1996 international pressure forced the Dutch to reduce the amount of
cannabis permitted for personal use from 30 to 5 grams; this is what
decriminalisation can do.
THE NETHERLANDS CAN LEGALISE INDEPENDENTLY
The question of whether legalisation of drugs would be desirable is often
cut short by the idea that legalisation solely in the Netherlands is impossible
because international treaties stand in the way. This is a misconception. First
of all, the Netherlands could withdraw from these treaties. But this is not
even necessary. The drug treaties which the Netherlands have entered into
constitute no impediment to the "expediency principle" that applies
in our country. This principle entails that the Public Prosecution Department
is not obliged to prosecute criminal offences if it does not deem such to be
"expedient" or useful. On the basis of this principle the Dutch
policy of tolerating the sale and use of soft drugs has been able to develop.
At first this policy caused opposition. However, in recent years the
appreciation is growing, and in some countries even further steps have been
Some recent developments:
Germany: The Constitutional Court decided on April 28, 1994 that the possession
of soft drugs for personal use need no longer be prosecuted. Since then, most
German regional governments now tolerate the sale and use of soft drugs.
Colombia: on May 5, 1994 the Court of Constitutional Law passed the motion that
possession of cannabis and cocaine are considered, in constitutional terms, to
be protected by the right to individual freedom.
Switzerland: several cities, including Zurich, dispense hard drugs to addicts
already for a year.
France: The advisory commission-Henrion, set up by the former government under
president Mitterand, advised to depenalize the use of soft drugs and to do the
same at a later stage with the production and sale. The largest possible
minority of this committee was in favour of applying the same to hard drugs.
Secretary-general Raymond Kendall from Interpol has proposed to no longer
penalise the possession of drugs. He considers drugs to be a health and social
problem rather than a judicial issue.
In our opinion the most "expedient" way of regulating the drug
problem in the short term is to expand the application of the present
"expediency principle" to all drugs in accordance with the system
that will be explained in the following chapters. It is remarkable that our
system is more in keeping with the treaties than the present Dutch policy of
The umbrella treaty concerning drugs is the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
of New York, signed in 1961. It received its name because it encompassed all
miscellaneous agreements up until that time. Later treaties, such as the Protocol
of Geneva of 1972 and the Convention on drug and psychotropic substances signed
in Vienna in 1988, do not infringe on its scope and purpose.
The preamble of the "Single Convention" states that the members are
committed to combat the evil of drug addiction (.."Conscious of their duty
to prevent and combat this evil").
Article 22 reads: "Whenever the prevailing conditions in the country or a
territory of a Party render the prohibition of the cultivation of the opium
poppy, the coca bush or the cannabis plant the most suitable measure, in its
opinion, for protecting the public health and welfare and preventing the
diversion of drugs into the illicit traffic, the Party concerned shall prohibit
In other words one could read this as follows: if, on the other hand, a country
considers legalisation to be a better option for protecting the public health
and the fight against the illegal drug trade, that country need not ban
production. In such a case, what should be done is stated in article 23 on
poppies (= opium and heroin): the country should then establish a National
Art. 23 sub 1: A Party that permits the cultivation of the opium poppy for the
production of opium shall establish, if it has not already done so, and
maintain, one or more government agencies (hereafter in this article referred
to as the Agency) to carry out the functions required under this article.
Art. 23 sub 2: Each such Party shall apply the following provisions to the
cultivation of the opium poppy for the production of opium and to opium:
a: The agency shall designate the areas in which, and the plots of land on
which, cultivation of the opium poppy for the purpose of producing opium shall
b: Only cultivators licensed by the Agency shall be authorised to engage in
d: All cultivators of the opium poppy shall be required to deliver their total
crops of opium to the Agency (....).
e: The Agency shall, in respect of opium, have the exclusive right of
importing, exporting, wholesale, trading and maintaining stocks other than
those held by manufacturers of opium alkaloids, medicinal opium, or opium
Article 28 stipulates the same for cannabis (marihuana and hash). Similar
regulations apply to cocaine and other drugs. The semi-legal production and
distribution of soft drugs that has existed in the Netherlands already for more
than 20 years does not comply with the condition that there should be a
government controlled agency. Our proposal includes the foundation of such a
national drug agency.
Legalisation will serve public health in a much better way, and it makes it
easier for the police and the public prosecutions department to fight the
remaining drug trade, which will mainly be export.
Withdrawal from international agreements or negotiations with treaty partners
are therefore not necessary. When the Dutch approach receives international
support and recognition, one could consider to amend the treaties to legalise
the regulation. Only then will legalisation become formal. Since with our plan
drugs would become legal in actual fact, we further refer to this "actual
legalisation" as simply: legalisation.
Drug prohibition is increasingly under attack internationally. If the
Netherlands switch to legalisation, other countries will not necessarily
disapprove. It may well be that amazement abroad will change into interest,
just as has happened with the Dutch policy on soft drugs.
There seems to be enough room in international politics for legalisation within
the Netherlands, provided that: illegal export from the Netherlands could be
fought at least as strongly as at present, and legalisation in the Netherlands
should not become a magnet for foreign drug tourists.
If the conditions can be fulfilled, the Netherlands will also comply with the
1990 Schengen Agreement, which leaves the way in which drugs are dealt with to
each participating country, but also demands that the policies of the other
countries should not be impeded. Our plan satisfies both conditions, as we will
show in the following chapters. Our proposal builds on the existing distinction
between the distribution of soft drugs and that of other drugs. Thanks to Mario Lap for the above
WEB SITE AUGUST 6 1998: "RECENT ACCOUNTS IN THE US
PRESS ABOUT THE NETHERLANDS DRUG POLICY HAVE INCLUDED INCORRECT AND
MISLEADING STATISTICS ABOUT DRUG USE AND DRUG-RELATED CRIME IN THE