Netherlands to change successful drugs policy
There’s a conservative wind of change blowing in The Hague. Even the Netherlands' world-famous "coffee shops" may not escape the present government's reforms. By rnw political correspondent Rutger van Santen
For over 30 years, the Netherlands has had the most liberal drugs policy in the world. But all that is about to change. After this week's parliamentary debate on the drugs issue, it looks like even the Netherlands' world-famous "coffee shops" may not escape the present government's reforms.
During the debate, the government presented plans to ban "grow shops", which selling seed and equipment for cultivating marijuana at home. Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin promised new legislation within a matter of months aimed at banning "everything that facilitates the domestic cultivation of cannabis" and imposing strict penalties on offenders.
Curtains for coffee shops?
A majority of MPs support the minister's efforts to take a much tougher line on the use, cultivation and sale of drugs. The spokesman for the main coalition party, the Christian Democrats, even advocated closing down the Netherlands' world famous coffee shops, where people can purchase a limited amount of soft drugs without facing legal sanctions. This proposal may also be able to count on a parliamentary majority.
This wind of change has to do with the fact that there are now far more conservatives among the people's representatives in the Netherlands than there have been for many a year. The coalition government currently running the country consists of three parties: the Christian Democrats, Labour and junior partner the Christian Union.
It is Labour's position that has undergone the biggest shift. Much to the vexation of the progressive opposition parties, Labour MPs have tend to vote along the same lines as their coalition partners since coming to power. And given that the opposition also includes the conservative VVD and the far right Freedom Party, both of which take a prohibitive stance on drugs, this is the first time in years that a real change in policy stands a chance of being implemented.
The left-wing opposition parties describe the changes as disastrous. For although the Dutch approach to drugs has been the target of much criticism from the rest of the world, its supporters within the Netherlands are quick to point out that it has been a shining success story. For years, the Netherlands has been at the very top of the rankings when it comes to the lowest number of drug-related deaths.
Experts say this is mainly due to the transparency of the Dutch system, the strict dividing line between hard drugs and soft drugs and the outstanding care for addicts. However, the current government is keen to jettison this liberal approach because of their own anti-drugs beliefs and because it is thought to contravene European regulations. Ironically, the proposed changes come at a time when an increasing number of governments are gradually coming round to the idea of following the Dutch example, precisely because it has been such a success.
12 March 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands (rnw) 2008]