Summary: 5 pages. 4 sources. MLA format.
This paper examines the attitude of law enforcement in The Netherlands regarding soft drug use and assesses if their permissive system is a successful one.
-Drug Laws of The Netherlands –
Is a Permissive Legal System Better than a Restrictive One in the Case of Drugs?
The Netherlands is one of the most highly developed countries in the world. It is an international, well-integrated country with policies that are among the world’s most liberal. In fact, The Netherlands has perhaps the most liberal view on drug use than any other country and has even gone to the extreme of extraordinarily relaxing its laws regarding soft’ drugs.
However, a common misconception about drugs in the Netherlands is that people believe they have been legalized there. Rather, cannabis and its by-products, marijuana and hashish, have merely been decriminalized. This means that the sale and use in moderate amounts of marijuana and hashish is not prosecuted.
This begs the question: Is a permissive legal system more effective than a restrictive system in the case of soft drugs? This paper examines the attitude of law enforcement in The Netherlands regarding soft drug use and assesses whether or not The Netherlands’s permissive system is a successful one.
Soft Drug Decriminalization in The Netherlands
Contrary to popular belief, when the Dutch parliament revised the country’s drug laws in 1976, it did not actually legalize any narcotic substances. Rather, it separated illegal drugs into two distinct categories: drugs with unacceptable health risks (such as heroin and cocaine), which were classified as “hard drugs,” and drugs with a lesser medical risk (such as cannabis), which were classified as “soft drugs” (Bransten, para. 3). The Dutch Parliament then decided to decriminalize soft drugs.
Because of this determination, throughout The Netherlands so-called “coffee shops” have opened. In these coffee shops, people are able to purchase limited amounts of cannabis and smoke a marijuana joint without fear of prosecution (Bransten, para. 4). These activities are not legal per se, but the local police do not monitor or prosecute them.
The rationale behind the Dutch parliament’s decision was that the use of marijuana among the Dutch population was increasing, and rather than bog down the legal system, Dutch politicians decided to decriminalize marijuana (Bransten, para. 4). The other benefit of the policy, as the Dutch politicians and general public see it, is that “it isolates the hard drug market from the recreational user…because cannabis consumers no longer regularly come into contact with street dealers and more harmful drugs” (Bransten, para. 5).
Dutch drug policy is guided by the principle of what is best described as “harm reduction” (Bransten, para. 8). This means that drugs are perceived as a public health issue and the goal should be to minimize the harm those drugs do to individuals and to society — not to criminally punish soft drug users.
With respect to users of hard drugs, they are monitored and encouraged to turn to the public health system for treatment, but unless they commit other crimes, they are not prosecuted in The Netherlands (Bransten, para. 7).
Consequently, the Dutch spend their time and money on prevention and education instead of criminal prosecution (Bransten, para. 8). This has allowed the Dutch authorities to concentrate their efforts policing activities elsewhere. In fact, since the policy was implemented, the Dutch police have concentrated on pursuing drug traffickers, drug laboratories, and all other crime related activities.
Therefore, would it be fair to say that the decriminalization of soft drugs been a success in The Netherlands? Several decades have passed since soft drugs were decriminalized and it is still somewhat difficult to make a final determination of its success’.
The results (positive or negative) of decriminalizing drugs and instituting a permissive legal system with respect to drugs, are disputed and somewhat unclear. The next section of this paper attempts to sort out the conflicting data that has emerged assessing results of The Netherlands’s permissive soft drug policy.
Results of Decriminalization in The Netherlands
The Dutch claim that their permissive drug policy has worked. Some statistics that have been generated have indicated that marijuana and hashish use among Dutch teenagers and young adults has not grown. In fact, according to some sources, it is lower than in many other Western countries (Bransten, para. 9).
Tim Boekhout van Solinge, a criminologist and drug-policy expert at the University of Amsterdam has stated:
“Eighty-five percent of the Dutch population have never, in their life, tried cannabis. So it’s 15 percent (of people) who have what you call lifetime experience prevalence. It’s lower than in the UK, or the U.S., lower than Ireland, about the same level as Germany, Belgium, France. France is a bit higher, Spain is a bit higher — it’s kind of in the average, you could say” (Bransten, para. 10).
These statistics have led many to ask why hasn’t the use of marijuana increased in The Netherlands after it was decriminalized? One factor to consider is the concept of the “forbidden fruit”. That is, decriminalizing soft drugs has made them less attractive to people.
According to some statistics, this has been the experience of The Netherlands. For example, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), after the Dutch government decriminalized marijuana in 1976, usage steadily declined — particularly among teenagers and young adults (ACLU, para. 25). Prior to decriminalization, 10 percent of Dutch 17- and 18-yesr-olds used marijuana, yet by 1985, that figure had dropped to 6.5 percent (ACLU, para. 25). These statistics tend to support the opinion that a permissive legal system regarding drug use is more successful than a restrictive one, such as in the United States.
However, some people have argued that The Netherlands has suffered an increase in marijuana use since the softening of their marijuana policy. Various select statistic show that, since the liberalization of the marijuana enforcement policies, The Netherlands has seen marijuana use among 11-18 year olds increase 142% from 1990-1995 (Voth, para. 14). According to these same statistics, crime has risen steadily to the point that aggravated theft and breaking and entering occurs 3-4 times more than in the United States (Voth, para. 14). This would tend to support the assertion that decriminalization of soft drugs has not been successful in The Netherlands.
Yet, Dutch citizens state that such claims are false and that those who perpetuate them are merely threatened by the success of The Netherlands’s liberal drug policy. For example, they say that some countries, and the U.S. in particular, are threatened by Dutch drug policy because it cuts directly against the moral ideology underlying their own restrictive drug policy (Reinarman, 2000). This is demonstrated in the United States’ history of unmitigated concern regarding intoxicating substances.
A prime example of this is that for over a hundred years, Americans believed that alcohol was the direct cause of poverty, crime, and would cause civilization to crumble. This fundamentalist crusade resulted in national alcohol prohibition in 1919.
Alcohol has since been legalized in the United States, but the U.S. has now applied this theory to drugs. The unofficial United States drug policy is that decriminalization (of even soft drugs) would lead to disaster.
However, a disaster’ has not occurred in The Netherlands as a result of decriminalization of drugs. In fact, the majority of research and statistics show that the Dutch have no more drug problems than most neighboring countries which do not have “liberal” drug policies.
While some people continue to claim that the permissive Dutch drug policy has led to an increased amount of drug use in that country, the majority of statistics tend to refute this. Overall, it appears that a permissive soft drug policy is certainly as effective, if not more so, than a restrictive system.
American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU Paper #19 – Against Drug
Prohibition. 1996. Available at: . Retrieved June 6, 2003.
Bransten, Jeremy. Europe: Drugs — Dutch Practice Liberal Policies
(Part 2). Radio Free Europe. 28 November 2000. Available at: . Retrieved June 5, 2003.
Reinarman, Craig. “The Dutch example shows that liberal drug laws can
be beneficial.” In: Scott Barbour (Ed.), Drug Legalization: Current Controversies. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000, pp. 102-108.
Voth, Eric A., and Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky. Contemporary Drug
Policy. 1/21/2000. Available at: . Retrieved June 5, 2003.