3 february 2014
Dutch laws governing marijuana use are so liberal
that even the US pop star Miley Cyrus failed to
spark too much controversy when she lit a joint
on stage in Amsterdam last year.
Now, 35 mayors are urging the government to take
it a step further and let them grow cannabis too,
as a global shift in favour of legalisation is
leaving the once forward-thinking Netherlands lagging behind.
In a manifesto signed last week, the mayors of
cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht
argue that the current laws allowing the sale but
banning the cultivation of marijuana mean the
nation’s cannabis cafes have to turn to illegal
gangs for their supply, encouraging organised
crime and wasting valuable police time dismantling unlawful plantations.
Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, said the
coffee shops were having to rely on “murky
worlds” and called the current situation
“unsustainable”, the public broadcaster RTV
reported. If local municipalities were able to
grow the drug in a regulated environment,
proponents argue, that would cut out the criminal
middlemen and generate revenue for the cities.
“The Netherlands no longer leads the way: what we
have is a bizarre system of banning and allowing
cannabis at the same time,” Arend van den Berg,
editor-in-chief of the Z24 business news website,
wrote in an editorial. The current laws mean
“coffee shops have to bend over backwards to
safeguard their supply line, giving criminals a
chance to get involved and endangering quality”.
The government, however, is unmoved. “We agree
that crime and nuisance have to be fought, but we
disagree on the right instrument,” said the
Security and Justice Minister, Ivo Opstelten. He
argues that a change in the law would not be
well-received by neighbouring countries, as
marijuana grown in The Netherlands could end up
in other European nations where it remains banned.
However, as the veteran Dutch politician Frits
Bolkestein told a conference on marijuana
legislation on Friday, “the international tide is turning”.
While The Netherlands was once at the cutting
edge of the move to decriminalise marijuana, it
now looks likely to be out-done in its liberal
credentials by the United States, where the
so-called “War on Drugs” was first declared, and
where the first state-licensed cannabis shops
opened in Colorado last month. The new laws allow
the regulated growth, sale and taxation of
marijuana for recreational use, and Washington
will enact similar laws later this year.
The tide is turning in South America too, with
Uruguay in December becoming the first nation
fully to legalise the trade in cannabis.
This marks a change from the last four decades,
when The Netherlands was one of the few places in
the world where you could spark up without fear
of arrest. Since the 1970s, the possession of
small amounts of cannabis has been legal,
allowing the sale and consumption in the infamous coffee shops.
As a result, Dutch cities have become favourite
destinations for party weekends. The presence of
drunken youths from across Europe marauding along
the streets searching for the next smoke-filled
cafe has already prompted some shift in the law,
with the city of Maastricht banning the sale of cannabis to tourists.
But those visitors can also offer a financial
windfall. By taxing the growth and sale of
cannabis, Colorado expects to raise $67m (UKP41m)
this year, and Mr Van den Berg cites a study
predicting that tourist spending and taxes on
legal drugs in The Netherlands could earn the government =801.05bn a year.
So while the stoned revellers may be annoying, it
seems the arguments in favour of legalisation are
persuasive: a recent poll by the current affairs
show EenVandaag found that 60 per cent of Dutch
people support the idea of state-grown weed.