(see also Treaties and Law)
No matter how much opinions on drugs policy may vary, there is a broad consensus on the ultimate criterion according to which the effectiveness of any national drugs policy should be measured. This is of course the number of hard drug addicts, especially the number of hard drug users under the age of 21, and changes in those numbers.
All estimates suggest that the number of addicts in the Netherlands is relatively low.
What is particularly pleasing is that in the Netherlands the number of heroin users under the age of 21 is relatively low, even among vulnerable groups, and has continued to fall in recent years.
3.1. The importance of the renewal of care
The number of hard drug addicts in the Netherlands is stable and relatively low (annex I). The average age of heroin addicts is over thirty and rising. There is therefore no reason to assume that the policy on soft drugs has resulted in a large increase in hard drug addicts. The fact that according to various statistics, including those of the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service, young people in the Netherlands rarely start using hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine before the age of 20 rather suggests the opposite in fact.
The fact that there are virtually no young people under 20 using heroin or cocaine in the Netherlands is extremely gratifying, especially as experience shows that the later in life a person starts using a drug the greater the chance of their overcoming their addiction at some stage.
4.1. Extent and nature of cannabis use
The decriminalisation of the possession of soft drugs in 1976 did not result in increased use. The level of consumption stabilised in the first few years after the Opium Act was amended. According to national figures, use again increased somewhat between 1984 and 1994, a trend which has also been observed elsewhere. Indeed, the United States has experienced a considerable increase in recent years. Both as regards the extent of cannabis use and trends in use, the Netherlands differs very little from other countries.
As already indicated, the number of users of soft drugs has increased after falling in the 1970s. Patterns of consumption are overwhelmingly recreational, though among certain specific categories of young people, such as chronic truants and street children, the use of cannabis can be described as very substantial and intensive.
The policy pursued by the Netherlands does not appear to have led to an increase in use, though there are indications that the existence of freely accessible coffee shops means that certain users continue to use the drugs for longer.
Conclusions and policy intentions
The decriminalisation of the possession of quantities of soft drugs for personal use and the existence of sales points tolerated under certain circumstances by the authorities have not resulted in a worryingly high level of consumption among young people. Moreover, users of soft drugs do not as a rule tend to experiment with hard drugs, such as heroin or cocaine; this is indeed the intention of the policy of keeping the markets separate. There is little use of heroin and cocaine among minors in the Netherlands, and the trend is towards even less.
The gratifyingly small and still falling number of addicts under the age of 21 represents an achievement which should not be jeopardised. The small number of minor addicts in Dutch towns and cities is after all one of the great successes of the Dutch drugs policy.
The situation is somewhat different as regards soft drugs. Dutch experience with coffee shops has shown that the greater availability of such drugs does not give in itself lead to increased use.
Australia's National Drug Strategy is widely acclaimed as a world leader, as it attempts to minimise the harmful effects of all drugs, licit and illicit, in Australian society. It does not have the impossible-to-achieve goal of eliminating drug use nor the simplistic approach of addressing just one class of drugs (the currently illicit ones), the approaches taken by some other nations. As part of the drug strategy, the National Task Force on Cannabis was formed, to under-take a review of current knowledge about cannabis use, so that Ministers could develop a national statement on cannabis. The National Task Force commissioned four separate reports, on the health impacts of cannabis use, the consumption patterns in Australia, on public opinion concerning cannabis, and this paper, on the legislative options available for cannabis.
The interdisciplinary research team drew on legal, criminal justice and social science perspectives. They first set out goals which a drug policy should try and accomplish, then reviewed a great deal of factual information about cannabis, including examples of other countries legislation. They then set out five possible options for legislation, and considered how each would meet the policy goals.
The five options they identified were
They concluded that neither total prohibition or free availability were suitable for Australia, and noted that the choice between the other three would have to be a political decision, taking into account the results of the three other studies. They concluded that cannabis law reform is required, and they believe that there is scope within the options for a policy that will satisfy societies concerns.
The report includes a very useful history of cannabis and the national and international treaties that govern it, and an appendix touching on its medical and horticultural/industrial uses.
The report states that prohibition has a more harmful effect on society and individuals than illegal drugs themselves. "It is the reaction of society to the use of certain drugs rather than the drug effects themselves that cause the problems and damage that concern us." It recommends that all drugs should be decriminalised, and puts forward three first steps for the first year of legislation. These include allowing the growth of personal quantities of cannabis.
In 1987 the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency held hearing to see whether cannabis should be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II, effectively allowing cannabis to be used a medicine, but nothing else. Contesting the decision were NORML, ACT, the Cannabis Cooporation of America and Carl Olsen, versus The DEA, the Parents for a Drug Free Youth and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The parties agreed beforehand to only contest 2 questions: whether cannabis had a currently accepted medical use and whether there was a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision. The parties prepared exhibits and called witnesses, and copies of their testimonies and the exhibits were exchanged beforehand. Then the parties were allowed to object to the evidence of the other side, and Judge Young ruled which evidence should be excluded. Then hearings were held where the witnesses were cross-examined. Final oral arguments were held in 1988, and Judge Young prepared his report.
Judge Young's report "accepted as fact"quot; that cannabis had a medical use. It lists many examples of individual doctors, hospitals and patients use of cannabis in the treatment of cancer chemotherapy nausea, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. It established as fact that cannabis is "far safer than many foods we commonly consume" and that "in its natural form it is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care."
Unfortunately, despite this recommendation from their own judge, the DEA administrator refused to reschedule cannabis, and he didn't even have to give a reason. His successor also refused and continues to do so to this day despite strong public support for such a move. These men are truly evil, denying relief to hundreds of thousands of seriously ill Americans and brutally criminalising them if they provide medicine for themselves.
In The Matter Of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition, Docket No. 86- 22, US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Francis L. Young, Administrative Law Judge, September 6, 1988
The NAS Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behaviour was composed of some of the leading American experts on medicine, addiction treatment, law, business, and public policy. These experts reviewed all of the available evidence on every aspect of the marijuana question. The committee then recommended that the country experiment with a system that would allow states to set up their own methods of controlling marijuana as is now done with alcohol. Under this approach, federal criminal penalties would be removed, and each state could decide to legalise the drug and impose regulations concerning hours of sale, age limits, and taxation.
In the same vein as all the previous major objective studies, this report stated that excessive marijuana use could cause serious harm, that such use was rare, and that, on balance, the current policy of total prohibition was socially and personally destructive. The report placed great emphasis on building up public education and informal social controls, which often have a greater impact on drug abuse than the criminal law. Regarding the possibility of disaster for our youth under legalisation, the report observed:
There is reason to believe that widespread uncontrolled use would not occur under regulation. Indeed, regulation might facilitate patterns of controlled use by diminishing the "forbidden fruit" aspect of the drug and perhaps increasing the likelihood that an adolescent would be introduced to the drug through families and friends, who practice moderate use, rather than from their heaviest-using, most drug-involved peers.
This commission was appointed by President Nixon in the midst of drug-war hysteria (Nixon repeatedly described drugs as Public Enemy number one). It was directed by Raymond P. Shafer, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, and had four sitting, elected politicians among its eleven members, and also contained leading addiction scholars among its members and staff.
While the commission supported much existing policy, it also recommended research, experimentation, and humane compromise. The commission recommended that possession of marihuana for personal use should be decriminalised, as should casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no or insignificant remuneration.
The distinguished Canadian experts on this governmental commission were led by law school dean, later Supreme Court Justice, Gerald LeDain. The report was similar to the other great commission reports in terms of its non-martial, calm approach to the facts and in its belief that marijuana use did not constitute a great threat to the public welfare. The official governmental commission was remarkable in the extent to which its report portrayed casual drug users as decent, thoughtful citizens whose views deserved the fullest possible hearing by the government in the process of developing drug control strategies.
A mother of four and school teacher was quoted in the report as saying: "When I smoke grass I do it in the same social way that I take a glass of wine at dinner or have a drink at a party. I do not feel that is one of the great and beautiful experiences of my life; I simply feel that it is pleasant, and I think it ought to be legalized." The commission did not ask for that change immediately but instead recommended that serious consideration be given to legalization of personal possession in the near future. The report also urged that police and prosecutors go easy on casual users and keep them out of jail as often as possible.
The Committee: this report was compiled by the Hallucinogens Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, chaired by Baroness Wootton, who, among many other activities, had been a Governor of the BBC for six years, a Justice of the Peace for sixteen years, a Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords since 1967, and who had served on four previous Royal Commissions. The nine other members of the sub-committee included K.J.P. Barraclough, a Metropolitan Magistrate since 1934 and Chairman of the Poisons Board, and Peter Brodie, Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police, formerly a Chief Constable and one of H.M.'s Inspectors of Constabulary, plus four doctors. Typical findings included "there is no evidence that ... serious physical dangers are directly associated with the smoking of cannabis", and "cannabis use does not lead to heroin addiction", and "the evidence of a link with violent crime is far stronger with alcohol than with the smoking of cannabis". They also stated that there was no evidence that smoking cannabis produced "conditions of dependence or psychosis, requiring medical treatment".
Conclusions: "We are... convinced that the present penalties for possession and supply are altogether too high."
Recommendations: "We recommend that in the interest of public health, it is necessary for the time being to maintain restrictions on the availability of cannabis." "Possession of a small amount of cannabis should not normally be regarded as a serious crime punishable by imprisonment."
The report of the sub-committee was endorsed by the Advisory committee, with a few minor reservations. The report states in its introduction that, while the report was being prepared, "Government spokesmen made it clear that any future development of policy on cannabis would have to take account of the Advisory Committee's report." However, Home Secretary James Callaghan and the Labour government ignored the committee's recommendation's and brought in the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) which continued the cannabis prohibition.
In 1938 New York's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia gathered a team of scientists to study the medical, social and psychological aspects of marijuana use in the city. The committee contained 2 interns, 3 psychiatrists, 2 pharmacologists, 1 public health expert and the Commissioners of Correction, Health and Hospitals and the director of the Psychiatry Division.
Work began in 1940, and included some in-depth scientific study of a group of 77 prisoners, who were long-term cannabis users. Results were first published in the scientific press in 1942, where they initially received good reviews. However Harry Anslinger went on the offensive, accusing the authors of immorality in such strong terms that by the time the full report was published, the reviews were scathing.
The social part of the report noted that marijuana was mainly used by "negroes and latin americans" in Harlem. It concluded that "The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word", and "The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction." It also noted that there was no connection between marijuana and crime: "Juvenile delinquency is not associated with the practice of smoking marihuana" and that "the publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded."
After an exhaustive study of the smoking of marijuana among American soldiers stationed in the zone, the panel of civilian and military experts recommended that "no steps be taken by the Canal Zone authorities to prevent the sale or use of Marihuana." The committee also concluded that "there is no evidence that Marihuana as grown and used [in the Canal Zone] is a 'habit-forming' drug."
Following a question in the House Of Commons concerning the harmful effects of the production and consumption of hemp drugs in Bengal, ("the lunatic asylum are full of ganja smokers"!!) the Government of India convened a seven-member commission to look into the matter. 1455 witnesses were cross-examined in 86 meetings in 36 cities, throughout 1893-4. The report, comprising some nine volumes and 3,698 pages, is the most completed and systematic study of marijuana undertaken to date, written in a timeless and lucid language, which has gathered praise for the British civil servants who wrote it: "It would be fortunate if studies undertaken by contemporary commissions, task force committees and study groups could measure up to the standards of thoroughness and general objectivity embodied in this report."
The report recommended that indian hemp should be controlled by taxes rather than prohibition. It recognised that moderate use of cannabis was the rule: "and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use produces practically no ill effects." The Indian government were happy to accept the recommendations (and hence the tax revenue) which went into force quietly, standardising laws and tariffs on cannabis in all the provinces. In March 1895, the Indian Government passed a resolution after reviewing the report. It said that for the last twenty years their policy had been of "restraining use and improving the revenue by the imposition of suitable taxation" and "imposing as high a rate of duty as can be levied without inducing illicit practices" on the grounds that "the best way to restrict the consumption of drugs is to tax them..." So, "to that policy the Governor-General... has decided steadily to adhere."
(see also treaties and law)E-mail WebMaster