Courtesy Reuters

Holland's Half-Baked Drug Experiment


"Look at the Dutch example!"

That phrase has become a kind of mantra, chanted whenever the advocates of liberalizing drug laws in Europe or the United States gather. The Dutch, liberalization proponents argue, got it right by legalizing the public sale, under certain restraints, of cannabis products in their now-famous coffee shops and by adopting a much more lenient policy toward all forms of drug use and abuse based on a philosophy of "harm reduction."

But did they? It has been almost a quarter-century since the Dutch Parliament set Holland's drug policy on a course of its own, one markedly different from that of the rest of Europe. Surely 23 years is enough time to examine the consequences of that policy. How has it affected drug use and addiction in the Netherlands? What impact has it had on Holland's next-door neighbors, France, Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom? Do the results really justify holding the Dutch drug policy up as a model for other nations to follow? Or are they a warning about the risks of following the Dutch example?

The revised Dutch drug policy was based on Parliament's 1976 acceptance of the recommendation of a commission headed by Pieter A.H. Baan, a psychiatrist and expert in rehabilitating drug addicts who was serving at the time in the Dutch Office of Mental Health. The Baan Commission's report proposed distinguishing between so-called List One drugs -- those that present "an unacceptable risk (heroin, cocaine and LSD)" -- and List Two drugs -- cannabis products, such as hashish and marijuana -- seen as less dangerous and "softer." Essentially, Parliament depenalized the possession of 30 grams of marijuana or hashish -- enough, the legislators calculated, to meet an average smoker's needs for three months. At the same time, the parliamentarians vowed to continue the fight against both domestic and international trafficking in the more dangerous List One drugs.

Shortly after accepting the commission's primary recommendation, Parliament went a step further by

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