Two weeks ago, John Calvin
Jones reported in Drug War Chronicle that Dutch
parliamentarians were pondering a pilot program to allow regulated marijuana
grows to supply the country's famous coffee houses. Last Friday,
the political parties involved reached agreement on the details.
The conservative government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende is balking,
but the legislators have warned that if the program is not in operation
by December 14, they will pass a bill designed to force it to act.
The trial approach to regulated
pot production would address what the Dutch call the problem of "the back
door." Under Holland's pragmatic approach to soft drugs, marijuana
and hashish remain illegal, but possession of less than an ounce is not
bothered with and retail sales through regulated coffee houses are allowed.
But marijuana growing remains a crime, so coffee house owners are forced
to obtain their product in the illicit market -- through the back door.
Under the pilot program,
which will take place in the southern border city of Maastricht, growers
will no longer be subject to arrest or prosecution, but they will have
to comply with existing health and safety standards. Participating
coffee shops will have to keep records of where they obtained their supply
and they will be required to provide customers with information about the
chemical content of their product and the health risks of inhaling smoke.
While the pilot program is
supported by more liberal members of the Dutch parliament, it has also
picked up defectors like conservative lawmaker Frans Weekers. "It
will be possible to trace where cannabis is grown, and where it's sold,"
Weekers said. Current policy is "leading to increasing problems,"
he told the Associated Press. "There comes a moment when you say,
'Now we have to take the next step,'" he said. "If this pilot program
works, and we can show to everyone that it's an improvement, then you have
a good argument to take to foreign governments."
But Balkenende and his Christian
Democrats have opposed further liberalization of Dutch drug laws (or practices),
arguing that it would open the door to complete legalization and it would
be in violation of the United Nation anti-drug conventions. "The
experiment would be at odds with Dutch law, and there's a legal problem
internationally," Balkenende told the AP.
Anti-cannabis Justice Minister
Piet Donner announced he had ordered an investigation into whether the
program would violate the conventions. Findings are expected within
days. That is probably a good thing, because the Dutch parties have
made it clear they are going to wait no longer on the government.
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