Source: NRC Handelsblad
March 4, 2008
By: Ruud Vreeman, mayor of Tilburg; Gerd Leers, mayor of Maastricht; Job Cohen , mayor of Amsterdam; Boris van der Ham, MP for D66 (left liberals); Krista van Velzen, MP for SP (left socialist party).
As far as drug policy goes: effect is what counts, not the ideology.
Holland should take an innovative and determined stance in the upcoming UN discussion on the new international drug policy, according to the 3 mayors and 2 Members of Parliament.
“The international convention regime obstructs any credible national drug policy.”
The Second Chamber will debate drug policies tomorrow. In 1998 the Dutch government engaged itself in the bold undertaking of eliminating or at least significantly reducing drug production and trade along with the other UN member states. The demand for illegal drugs was to be reduced likewise. The outcome of this policy will be evaluated in Vienna this month in order to set new goals and come up with a new political statement directing future drug policy in 2009.
And what are the Netherlands going to support? Until now the government has not passed judgement over the achieved results of the passed ten years. Has the illegal drug market been eliminated or significantly reduced? A rhetoric question. Nevertheless the government poses that the results of the passed decade should determine to what degree the action plans need adaptation. “Necessary measures should be based on evidence of effectiveness.”
This is an important positioning for the government. This means that not just ideological and (party) political views are to determine the policy, but that policy makers must take into account policies that really work and achieve results.
The UN debate is crucial to future drug policy. The Netherlands are – together with 183 other countries – party to three international treaties on drugs and must adjust their national policy to these agreements. During this year member states have the opportunity to state which drug policy they want to pursue and which adjustments need to be made to the treaties.
The Netherlands are an important player in the field. Of course there’s the international denunciation of certain Dutch choices, but also a lot of appreciation for innovative elements in our drug policy. The Dutch contribution to the upcoming international debate therefore is of great importance en should at least consist of the following two observations:
First Dutch policy had the courage to experiment with medical and social assistance to addicts, distribution of methadone, user rooms, needle exchange and controlled heroin distribution. All of these measures actually worked and presented the desired results and that is why more countries have also begun experimenting. Some countries, unlike the Netherlands, have already taken the next step. They have gone beyond ‘tolerating’ certain practices and instead they are putting these practices into law, thus making even more explicit choices. Germany, for instance, has a law on user rooms and is about to conclude the debate on a law for heroin distribution. It is time that these therapeutic and harm-reduction strategies were recognized as part of the basic principles for global drug policy.
Some member states and the INCB (the UN board that supervises adherence to the drug treaties) state that they think these innovative practices are partly violating the international treaties. In 2009 this issue is to be settled on UN level. Minister Koenders rightly stressed “the necessity of harm reduction and the necessity of an active Dutch drug diplomacy”. More than ever, the Netherlands must take the lead in this issue.
Secondly, there’s the cannabis policy. After 30 years of experience with the policy of toleration, everybody recognises that the policy is inconsistent and lacks credibility. Things need to become more effective and an international debate on the issue should be started. Last December a resolution was brought before the government asking them to come up with propositions to present to the UNGASS evaluation of the United Nations.
This appeal originated from the conclusion that de present international treaties obstruct a consistent and credible national drug policy. This is not only true for the Netherlands as cannabis is produced and sold almost everywhere and is used by over 170 million people globally.
The 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs contains a clause that states that all cannabis use other than for medical or scientific purposes should be terminated within 25 years. Almost half a century later the delusion that penal prosecution would get a hold of the drug market is shattered. The governmental and judicial burden remains enormous and authorities do not have the right policy instruments to control quality and THC-content for public health reasons.
Numerous reports, investigations, resolutions and motions in different countries asked for a change of the present policy. They have all been turned down, just like our own proposals to fix our problem with the ‘backdoor’, for violating the international treaties.
“Based on evidence of effectiveness’, the Dutch government should support and facilitate the debate and insist with other countries that the issue should be part of the international agenda.Republish