Adhering as always to the tenets of enlightened harm reduction, Dutch authorities in a town on the German border are preparing to open marijuana and hash drive-through shops. The drive-throughs are aimed at keeping German "drug tourists" from clogging the city center and attracting street level hard drug dealers. Holland's tacit policy of allowing small-scale cannabis sales has made the country a popular destination for cannabis users from its less enlightened European neighbors.
Always polite, the Dutch prefer to say that such a move will "make it easier" for the Germans to score their weed without disrupting Dutch communities. But a spokeswoman for the border town of Venlo told the Associated Press that street dealing was the real concern. The drug tourists attract street dealers, creating "an environment that generally makes ordinary people feel unsafe," said Tamira Hankman. "The new coffee shops need to be outside the city and they need to be easily accessible. Our city center has been flooded with these tourists, and the plan is part of an offensive to make it safer."
Hankman told the AP she was not yet sure what the coffee shops will offer and that local officials are working on the final details of the proposal. The proposal in Venlo needs to be approved by the city council. If and when that occurs, local officials will consult with German municipal officials before opening the drive-throughs next year, Hankman said.
And as authorities in the US move harshly against Ecstasy (MDMA) and the associated rave culture, the Dutch calmly ignore American manias, instead accomodating themselves to the popular empathogen. According to a recent report in the Washington Post, Dutch authorities are working with Ecstasy users and clubs to ensure safe conditions for users.
Ecstasy users can have their pills tested and analyzed at drug treatment centers. Upon analysis, "we give them a card telling them what they can expect if they take this pill," Harold Wychgel, a Health Ministry spokesman told the Post. Wychel said the testing also serves other government ends; the tests provide accurate real-time data about what pills are on the market, prevalence of use and user profiles, he said.
While the US government heightens criminal penalties for Ecstasy and resorts to last century's crack house laws to go after rave promoters, Dutch authorities responded with a government white paper laying out common sense, harm reduction regulations for raves. The sites must be well ventilated and well supplied with free water, to prevent dehydration. Raves must also have a "chill out" room, where ravers can relax in a cool and quiet place.
Dutch police officials, health authorities and policy analysts consider the US reaction to Ecstasy use alarmist, the Post reported. The newspaper quoted one criminologist who has studied Ecstasy extensively as saying, "I think the Americans are overreacting. I've gone to raves with researchers and I've spoken to dozens of rave-goers," said Tim van Solinge. "One thing I've found is that rave-goers are so responsible."
Which is more than the Dutch government is willing to say about the UN's Drug Control Program (UNDCP). In early April, the Dutch refused to pay their annual contribution to the UNDCP budget, citing persistent and detailed allegations of mismanagement at the Vienna-based agency's highest levels.
The agency is headed by Pino Arlacci, an Italian mafia-fighter whose drug-fighting single-mindedness -- he was involved in setting up anti-drug paramilitaries along the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border and wanted to censor anti-prohibitionist views from the Internet -- is apparently topped only by his incompetence and arrogance. According to the Dutch newspaper Het Parool, Arlacci has driven numerous top staff members in Vienna to resign, among them the experienced UN administrator and respected director for operations and analysis, Michael von der Schulenburg. His December letter of resignation, widely circulated in European drug policy circles, read more like a bill of particulars against Arlacci.
Arlacci's mismanagement and overreaching are "destroying the credibility of UNDCP," wrote von der Schulenburg, and Arlacci possesses "a style of management that has demoralized, intimidated and paralyzed the staff of UNDCP."
According to Het Parool, in announcing the "freezing" of Holland's $4 milliion share, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs also cited ongoing investigations of the UNDCP by the UN's internal inspection and audit branch in New York. The Dutch government awaits the results of those investigations, as well as organizational reforms, said Het Parool.
But the Dutch also have deeper-seated problems with the UNDCP and its parent agency, the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs, and the freezing of funds may be one way for the Dutch to jab at an international prohibition regime they increasingly see as out of touch with reality. In the Committee on Narcotics Drugs' last meeting in March, the Dutch delegate openly called on the UN to "study and try to bridge the tension between the ideology underlying the treaties and the reality and practices of today's drug consumption pattern," in the words of Het Parool.