The White Dog Cafe (http://www.whitedog.com) in Philadelphia's University City neighborhood serves up much more than fine contemporary American cuisine. Inspired by the vision of owner Judy Wicks, the cafe has become a bastion of community activism squarely in the progressive, anti-interventionist tradition. Wicks and the White Dog have involved themselves in issues ranging from solidarity with Mexico's Zapatista rebels to the living wage campaign to the fight to block genetically modified organisms in the food supply.
Drug reform, too. "The White Dog Cafe has events here at the restaurant that try to educate people about different subjects, and one of them is drug reform," said the cafe's Debbie Eisenberg. "We've had a series of events -- film series, table talks -- focused on drug policy," she told DRCNet. "We also have a sister coffeehouse relationship with the Paradox Coffeehouse in a residential neighborhood in Amsterdam," she said. "And we go to Amsterdam to see for ourselves what an enlightened drug policy looks like -- their thinking is so far ahead of ours."
From May 20-27, Wicks, Eisenberg and 11 other interested citizens took advantage of a program funded by the Amsterdam municipal government that provides drug policy tours for foreign groups. "We were able to meet with lots of different folks," Eisenberg told DRCNet. "We talked to the administrator of the municipal health service, drug researchers from local universities and the Jellinek Institute, police who enforce the drug laws, among many others," she said. "We learned plenty that was very provocative for people interested in drug policy," she said.
Dan Hood, a post-doctoral fellow with The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation also participated in the tour. "I went with a bit of skepticism because it was a tour, not an academic program," Hood told DRCNet, "but I am quite happy with the program. It was a well-organized, very serious look at Dutch drug policy. There were the coffee houses, the museums, and the canal trips, of course, but also a rigorous schedule of meetings with knowledgeable people. I had a very good time."
Hood pointed out, however, that the tour does not replace serious research. "While not rescinding my enthusiasm for the White Dog-Q4Q tour, I want to add that it is only an introduction to Dutch drug policy, not an in-depth study," he said. "As an academic who studies drug policy, I did not learn that much that I hadn't known before. Don't get me wrong, though, I still heartily recommend the tour."
For Hood, one of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to talk to drug users who are actually using the system in Amsterdam. "I visited a user room (safe injection room) in a lovely, homey brownstone in Amsterdam," said Hood. "This one was privately operated, although it receives funding from the municipal government. The municipal injection rooms are much larger and more clinical, I am told. This one, though, had nice sofas and chairs and can accommodate overnight stays. I talked to two hard drug users at some length," Hood related, "one from England and one from Maastricht. The guy from England had also had experience with harm reduction services in England and Berlin, but he said Amsterdam was the best. The guy from Maastricht, who was on methadone, agreed that services in Amsterdam were far superior to services in his hometown, whose methadone program, he said, was much more strict."
Eisenberg and Hood both gave credit to Quest for Quality (http://www.q4q.nl/english/home.htm), a bureau of the Amsterdam municipal government, one of whose missions is to organize study trips for professionals and interested laypeople examining Dutch drug policy. For a fee of approximately $35 per person per day, Q4Q will set up programs of one to four days with a wide variety of drug policy-related persons and programs. Q4Q will arrange tours to see, among other things: drugs prevention activities, AIDS prevention activities, a low threshold methadone program, the heroin experiment, a project for drug users in hospital, an outpatient clinic for prostitutes and foreign drug users, a project for children of addicted parents, facilities for addicted women, needle exchange projects, night shelters for homeless drug users, user rooms, the Junkie Union, re-socialization projects, projects for ethnic minorities, projects in prisons, and the Amsterdam police.
"Q4Q was great!" enthused the White Dog's Eisenberg. "It's really wonderful that the Dutch authorities would set up a program like this. They were very professional and helped us decide where we wanted to spend our time."
Eisenberg encouraged other groups to consider the Q4Q Amsterdam drug policy tour. "It is doable for about $1500 per person from the East Coast," she said. "In our case, people booked their own flights, and we reserved a block of hotel rooms that people paid for with their own money. The only shared group expense was the cost of Q4Q's services," she explained.
Wicks and the White Dog are not merely interested in knowledge for its own sake. "The object is to change the failed war on drugs," said Eisenberg. "We try to select people for our groups who can influence policy -- doctors, journalists, professionals." This year's group reflected that goal. In addition to Wicks, Eisenberg, and Hood, it included people working in treatment, a woman doing youth rehabilitation work, a libertarian activist, and DRCNet's Chris Evans. Last year, the White Dog-Q4Q tour included a former Pennsylvania Attorney General.
Nor does the end of the trip mean the end of the White Dog's interest in drug policy. "We will do a follow-up to the trip this fall," she said. "We'll invite participants to come in and speak about the trip and give a report from Amsterdam. We want to spread the knowledge," she said.