Europe: Dutch Parliament Ponders Experiment in "Legal" Coffeeshop Supply 11/25/05

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special to Drug War Chronicle by John Calvin Jones, PhD, JD, Department of Government, South Texas College

Once again Dutch parliamentarians are seeking to make their domestic drug laws coherent, but Dutch government ministers want to maintain the schizophrenic status quo. According to the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, in early November a majority of the members in the Tweede Kamer (the Dutch lower house of parliament) proposed to take a first step toward legalizing domestic marijuana production -- through the implementation of an experimental "pilot project" that would supply cannabis for coffeeshops."

The Bulldog coffeeshop, Amsterdam
courtesy www.amsterdam.info
While only six months ago, a slim majority (comprised of the Christian-right parties with the strongly libertarian VVD) rejected the idea, the VVD members have now changed their opinion. As the Volkskrant said, "the change in course means a breakthrough in the 'soft drugs' policy."

Despite repeated claims to the contrary by American drug warriors, marijuana is generally prohibited in the Netherlands. Though since 1976, the official-unofficial policy of the Dutch national government, local police, and prosecutors has been to license and tolerate marijuana sales in so-called coffeeshops or hash bars (which cannot stock more than 500g at one time), it has always been illegal to grow marijuana in the Netherlands. (In 1996, the Dutch government began to allow people to grow up to five plants for personal use, while not legalizing the activity.)

Given the legal framework, the status quo has left the Dutch with what they call "the backdoor" problem.s Just where are coffeeshop owners supposed to get their stash? The colloquial answer is "the back door," that is clandestinely because it cannot come through the front door.

Hence current Dutch policy on cannabis has been a law enforcement headache and a boon to organized crime. With no large-scale legal source of their product, coffeeshop owners are forced to go underground, into subterranean networks where it can be all too easy to end up rubbing shoulders with other black markets and other forms of criminality.

Supporters of the coffee shops are quick to point out that the shops themselves, most of them small enterprises, are not connected to criminal networks. "Coffeeshop owners have nothing to do with organized crime, guns, or human trafficking, said August de Loor of the Drug Advice Bureau. "About 95% of them are small businessmen running their local coffee shop, and they are buying relatively small amounts of foreign hash and home-grown Dutch weed for their customers, so their backdoor is small, he told DRCNet."

Paradise coffee shop, Amsterdam
courtesy www.amsterdam.info
Still, the Dutch are trying to address the problem of coffeeshop supply. In quintessential Dutch manner, instead of trying to pass legislation to create an absolute freedom to grow, a coalition of the progressives and libertarians in the parliament, made up of the PvdA (labor), VVD (the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy), D'66 (the Democrats of 1966) and the GroenLinks (literally the Green-Left) proposed that municipal governments in Amsterdam and Maastricht start an experiment in legalized domestic cultivation to supply the coffeehouse market, though each party in the coalition has its own variation of the particulars on the table. One other explanation for the timid, "experimental" approach might be that such a move was tried in 2000, but through various parliamentary moves of then Prime Minister Wim Kok, never got to a vote.

Reaction to the proposal for some semblance of government regulation on the supply-side of the "marijuana question" by ruling coalition was swift and trite. The ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs have come out against a system of legalized domestic marijuana cultivation, claiming that international treaties do not allow it.

That claim is debatable. Articles III and XIV of 1988 UN convention governing "illicit" drugs offer provisions and caveats for domestic variations in law, policy, and domestic enforcement. In this way, the 1988 convention parrots and incorporates language of previous agreements including the 1961 Single Convention, the 1925 Agreement of Geneva and the "1912 Convention" signed at The Hague, which always permitted domestic production of opium, coca, and hashish, but sought to curb the international drug trade.

In a stronger statement during parliamentary debate November 14, Justice Minister Pieter Donner warned of legal consequences for cities if the Tweede Kamer authorized the cultivation experiment. "Local governments that cooperate in the experiment for regulated marijuana cultivation shall be in violation of the law," Donner said, adding that if they did, he would have to demand his prosecutors take legal action against them.

While elements of the conservative Dutch government remain firmly opposed to the "backdoor" proposal and in fact would like to further tighten restrictions on the coffeeshops, it looks like a parliamentary rebellion is underway. Meanwhile, Minister Donner is left with no alternative but scare tactics and worries about the United Nations. But the UN conventions might be more flexible than Donner is willing to admit, and if regimes like those in Afghanistan are granted waivers for opium exports, Dutch transgressions in re domestic cannabis production are not likely to raise any eyebrows.

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Issue #412 -- 11/25/05

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Feature: San Francisco Regulates Medical Marijuana Dispensaries | Europe: Dutch Parliament Ponders Experiment in "Legal" Coffeeshop Supply | The Prohibition Debate: Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Sparks Controversy with Call for Look at Drug Decriminalization | Prohibition and Violence: California Dispensary/Grower Robberies Claim First Fatality | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Law Enforcement: Austin Police Chief Fires Cop Who Killed Daniel Rocha | Sentencing: Rhode Island Federal Judges Not Waiting for Congress to Fix Crack-Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparities | Sentencing: Indiana Judge Compares Meth Cook to a Terrorist, Gives Him 30 Years | Medical Marijuana: Arkansas, Wisconsin Legislatures Hold Hearings | Latin America: Colombia to Suspend Aerial Fumigation Along Border With Ecuador | Web Scan: EMCDDA, Cato on Mexico, Jews and Medical Marijuana | Job Opportunity: Operations and Technology Coordinator, Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, DC Area | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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