Source: De Standaard,
By: Filip Verhoest
Stop the hypocrisy
Yesterday, the bilateral conference on cannabiscultivation in Belgium and Holland started. During the two day conference scientists, police-officers and magistrates will exchange views on drugpolicies. The conference might be an inspiration to politicians on both sides of the border in reaching an agreement to end the ongoing tensions between the two countries regarding the coffeeshops in Dutch bordertowns, like Maastricht, that entice streams of Belgian drugcommuters.
The conference also includes a debate between the mayors of Maastricht (NL), Terneuzen (NL), Turnhout (B) en Voeren (B) (DS December 1). This discussion will of course be conducted in a civilised way as may be expected on a scientific conference. Until now these bilateral negotiations only amounted to a deafman’s conversation on both sides. Moreover policies regarding cannabis don’t make any sense in either Belgium or Holland.
For decades Holland has pursued a tolerant approach towards the use and sale of cannabis. Softdrugusers can get their ‘stuff’ in limited amounts in a coffeeshop. The establishments are renowned all over the world. The coffeeshops have become a symbol for the tolerance on which our north neighbours pride themselves.
At the same time ‘hempteams’ are coming down hard on all weedgrowers, big or small. As a result much of the cannabisproduction has fallen into the hands of major criminals who cash up to 3.500 euro voor 1 kilo cannabis. The ‘frontdoor’ (the selling in the shops) may be adequately taken care of in Dutch drugpolicy, but the unregulated supply to these coffeeshops (the backdoor) has become a profitable industry involving millions of euros that attracted organised crime.
The Belgian approach doesn’t really make sense either. Adults can possess up to 3 grams, ‘for personal use’. However, the law is ultimately vague as it comes to filling in the supply-side of the story. Just like Holland, our country nevertheless is home to quite a large group of cannabisusers. It is common knowledge that many of them get their supply in the Dutch bordertowns.
In his presentation Prof. Tom Decorte exposed the ‘short-term’ policies ‘of both countries’. He openly pleaded for the controlled cultivation of cannabis.
Prof. Decorte states: ‘Holland has been harsh on cannabisgrowers the last few years. In both 2005 and 2006, 6.000 hempfarms were eliminated. Yet the illegal supply to the coffeeshops keeps flowing. How is this possible? Cannabisproduction has fallen into the hands of hardened criminals. Smalltime growers quit because of the greater risks involved. Big gangsters fill in the gap and continue to expand. The illegal activities move to a wider range and cannabisfarms start appearing in Belgian borderregions.’
‘You might compare it to a waterbed,’ says Prof. Decorte: if you push down on one side the water comes up on the other side. ‘If we would hunt down Belgian growers as the Dutch are doing, production would again relocate: to Germany or the Ardennes. In the mean time mayors keep accusing each other. But they fail to look beyond their own territory and are only busy fighting symptoms.’
Decorte supports the idea of allowing government controlled cannabiscultivation. This implies that Belgium would introduce ‘identifiable outlets’, like the Dutch coffeeshops. ‘Every step should be regulated: production, distribution and the final personal sale to the end-user,’ says Decorte. ‘In this way purity and potency of cannabis are guaranteed. Public Health would surely merit from this kind of regulation, as now only the rules of maximized profit apply which justify the exaggerated use of pesticides for example.’
‘Regulated cannabiscultivation would put a stop to most drug tourism,’ according to Prof. Decorte. ‘This doesn’t mean that the free-market should be allowed to have it’s way. Regulation does not mean regularization. We should learn from the mistakes we made with alcohol and tobacco, where we left the initiative to multinationals that didn’t hesitate to target new customers through advertising, while covering up any negative consequences associated with these legal intoxicants to ensure maximum profit.’
For the time being the plea of this scientist in Ghent is a shout in the desert. In the new policy agreements that are being negotiated between Christian Democrats en Liberal Democrats, there is no sign of any change in the halfhearted drug policy of the last years. More of the same seems to be in store, except that police will again be obligated to record every case of possession no matter the amount. Paperwork will increase, but fundamentally nothing changes.Republish