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Crack down on soft drugs

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The Netherlands' soft drugs policy has become a famous—or infamous—aspect of its international image as a free, liberal country. But that may come to an end, now that a government commission has decided the policy should be changed.

A strictly monitored supply of soft drugs to coffeeshops, sold only to local customers, should help in controlling the use of soft drugs in the Netherlands, said the commission's report, published on Thursday.

The relaxed policy on cannabis and other soft drugs should be made much stricter, in order to limit negative side effects such as drugs tourism and organised crime.

Smaller coffeeshops
The easygoing policy on drugs and coffeeshops has grown over the past thirty years but, according to Wim van de Donk, who presided over the commission, the policy doesn’t work anymore. “It has gone too far,” the report said.

“We need to return to smaller coffeeshops that only serve local customers.” This would mean an end to drug tourism, where clients come from far afield to buy soft drugs.

Michael Veling, local politician and coffeeshop owner
One of the main problems that Dutch coffeeshops have to deal with is their goods supply. Although the sale of soft drugs is permitted, growing and supplying them remain illegal. The report acknowledges that this is an almost impossible situation; the supply should be allowed under strict rules.

The commission also sees possibilities for regulating the of growing cannabis and other soft drugs. This would sideline organised crime, which currently plays a major role in the growing of (illegal) cannabis. Only regulated, Dutch-grown soft drugs should be allowed for sale in coffeeshops, the commission said.
Closing coffeeshops is not an option, van de Donk stated: “We need action, not boarding up.”

(Above left: Michael Veling, Amsterdam local politician and coffeeshop owner)


Negative effects
The report was commissioned by the Dutch government, after city councils in the south of the Netherlands expressed their growing doubts over the current relaxed drugs policy. Cities like Maastricht, Bergen op Zoom and Terneuzen—all close to the Belgian border—have endured the negative effects of heavy drugs tourism, attracting people from Belgium, France and Germany, where the sale of soft drugs is prohibited.

The commission also calls for an independent drugs authority to control the soft drugs market and to monitor future changes in drug policies. Police should work more coherently to combat organised crime related to drugs.

Johan van Slooten
Radio Netherlands




Photo credits: Michael Veling by Ballistik Coffee Boy (, Creative Commons license)

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