Amsterdam Shows The Futility Of Legalizing Drugs

by John Hawkins | October 12, 2010 4:56 am

There’s a contingent out there in American politics that argues we should legalize drugs. The reasons why this isn’t a good idea are legion and arguments in favor of it tend to be rather flimsy once they’re examined. One of them that we often hear is that cannabis is legal in Amsterdam and it’s working out great for them. Actually? Not so much[1]…

Coffee shops legally selling cannabis have been a feature of Amsterdam’s streets for more than 30 years, a magnet for younger tourists and a symbol of the Dutch brand of liberal exceptionalism.

But the fragrant haze found in the city’s 200 or so establishments could be dispersed under plans by the incoming government, which is looking to roll back the “tolerance policy” that has allowed such shops to operate since 1976.

…Certainly the outlook for coffee shops is bleak. Among the few policies that the three parties in the new coalition government agree on is the need to reduce their numbers. The governing agreement released last week laid out plans that will force them to become members-only clubs and shut down those shops located near schools.

The coalition is also advancing the idea of prohibiting the sale of cannabis to non-Dutch residents, which amounts to a death knell for many coffee shops.

…The stricter stance comes after years of gradual tightening of rules governing cannabis sales and a 2007 ban on the selling of alcohol in coffee shops. Although the shops proliferated in the 1980s and early 1990s, their numbers have dropped by half in the past 15 years, from around 1,400 in 1995 to about 700 today.

…For Paul Schnabel, director of the Social and Cultural Planning Office, a government advisory board, the move reflects a growing view that the tolerance policies have not controlled the ills associated with drugs and prostitution, rather than a recasting of Dutch liberalism.

“There’s a strong tendency in Dutch society to control things by allowing them. . . . We look for better alternatives to problems that we know exist anyway,” he explained.

But, he added, “Dutch society is less willing to tolerate than before. Perhaps 30 years ago we were a more easy-going society.”

The circumstances that led to the tolerance policies have changed in the past decade, as large-scale crime around coffee shops and the legal sex trade became more visible. In particular, the absence of legal means for coffee shops to obtain cannabis has highlighted their association with organized crime.

But the open-minded instincts that helped foster the policies are also being questioned. And it is not just the far-right opposing coffee shops. The traditional parties of power on the center-right, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal VVD, have also moved against the policies they once promoted.

Oh, but I thought “legalizing it” would end the crime that is associated with drugs? Apparently that’s not the case in the Netherlands. We also hear about what an incredible revenue stream pot would turn into for the government. Yet, even in the Netherlands where easy access to pot is actually a tourism draw, they don’t think the extra revenue is worth it. That’s pretty noteworthy if you think about it. After all, how much of a problem do these coffee shops have to be if the Left, the Right, and the center all agree that there needs to be a crack down?

Legalizing pot is like socialized medicine. If we look to places where it’s been tried, we’ll see that we’re better off with the policy we already have in place, flawed though it may be.

  1. Not so much:

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