A few decades ago the Dutch trail-blazed a new approach to cannabis regulation which left the rest of Europe scratching their heads in disbelief. The Dutch coffeeshop system became both a stoner paradise and a political embarrassment at the same time, and has pretty much remained that way ever since.
Since the 1980’s various political campaigns have promised to end the Dutch tolerance of cannabis and close down the coffeeshops for good. Today the Amsterdam coffeeshops are busier than ever even though other Dutch cities have banned tourists from their coffee shops. Dutch politicians have been split between those that want to copy the Colorado model and fully legalise pot, and those that want to make life as difficult as possible for the cannabis lovers. In general, the canna-sceptics have dominated large parts of the Dutch political pot debate in recent years but they have never been able to make a permanent reversal of the traditional Dutch tolerance of cannabis.
But political opinion is changing, and if it changes quickly enough The Netherlands can once again be Europe’s spiritual capital of pot. However Dutch minister Ivo Opstelten has traditionally blocked progressive ideas for cannabis, he is Dutch Minister for Security and Justice. One of his concerns is the United Nation agreements on drugs, he is reluctant to flout the agreed international prohibition of cannabis.
Above, Ivo Opstelten. His current policies serve organise crime with huge annual profits
However it is interesting that Opstelten’s international colleagues are less worried about breaking international agreements than he is. The USA have openly snubbed every cannabis-prohibition agreement when the Federal Government stood by and allowed Colorado/Washington legalize cannabis. And Uruguay have also comfortably flouted every international agreement when they famously ignored the whole world when they became the first country to fully legalize cannabis. Now we hear Guatemala is also on the verge of legalising cannabis. Many other South American states are also reviewing their drug laws following Uruguays courageous first move. And within a couple of years the USA will have over half its states with cannabis legal for medical and/or recreational pot.
So should the Dutch Security Minister worry about the international reaction if the Dutch really do decide to take a leap of common sense and legalize cannabis in the coming year or two? The Dutch Government recently commissioned a study which considered, amongst other issues, the approach used in other countries with their own drug strategies. This study was interesting simply because it was a surprise that politicians should be so interested in potential political reaction to cannabis legalisation.
Cannabis prohibition fuels the continued boom in home grown cannabis. Above, Dutch Passion Orange Bud and a very happy home grower.
Holland has some important reasons why it should be Europe’s equivalent of Colorado. The coffeeshop system has been a semi-legal compromise which has caused political discomfort for years in Holland. The coffeeshop can legally sell pot from the front door yet they are forced to buy their cannabis illegally from their ‘backdoor’. Many Mayors in Holland are openly critical of this policy since it means that the large scale pot production to supply the coffee shops remains unregulated and untaxed. There are two options open to address this.
But it is difficult to imagine that the current Security Minister Opstelten has the political courage or leadership to agree to legal commercial cannabis growing in Holland. That leaves two possibilities. Either the Dutch wait for new elections and a new security Minister, which will happen soon anyway. Or the regional Dutch Mayors could choose to simply ignore Opstelten’s stubborn opposition to legal commercial cannabis growing. If the regional Dutch Mayors do defy Opstelten then it would be a political disaster for Opstelten and take him into new territory. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of local leaders want legal commercial cannabis growing, and many of these are from Opsteltens own party. Opstelten will not want a political fight with senior members of his own team, but nor can he be comfortable to see himself politically isolated and lagging so far behind public opinion. It’s a no-win position for Opstelten and it’s the main reason why something has to give.
But there could be a way for Opstelten to wriggle out of the political corner has created. Yuri Fedotov is the United Nations Executive Director of Drugs & Crime, and recently he gave a remarkable get-out clause for the Dutch. See the YouTube video below
UN Officer Fedotov explains the following to Steven Kompier of International Cannabis News at a recent session:
“The United Nations is not a straight-jacket for member states”
“The drug control conventions are not providing any sanctions”
“It’s up to each Government to decide whether they will comply or not”
It’s clear from the official United Nation Director (Fedotov) that there are absolutely no sanctions or problems for each member state to do what is best for them. This is a clear softening of the UN position. Back in the late 1990’s the UN drug treaties were regarded as ‘non negotiable’ . Today it is a case of ‘do what you want’
So the ball is back in the court of the elected officials to decide whether they have the courage to make the right decisions. They can no longer use the United Nations as an excuse for inaction and political cowardice.
ENCOD, the European coalition for fair drug policies had mixed feelings on the outcome of the recent United Nations session which concluded on March 2014. On one hand there was significant flexibility shown publicly by the UN Director Fedotov. On the other hand it looked like the UN was still unable to come to terms with the epic failure of it’s own drug policies. Maybe one day the UN will be forced to admit that it invoked and sustained a counter-productive drugs policy. ENCOD’s coordinator, Joop Oomen, was singled out for a body search and refused admission to the UN session before they later apologised to him and re-admitted him. It was a shoddy way to treat one of Europe’s leading Drug Policy experts.
Yuri Fedotov from the UN. “The United Nations is not a straight-jacket for member states”
In Holland the winds of political change are blowing. The democratic ‘D66’ party are outspoken in favour of a modernised cannabis policy and recently they won a significant number of local elections making them the largest party in important cities such as Amsterdam and Utrecht.
Perhaps Holland will become Europe’s equivalent of Colorado in the near future. But at the moment Europe is still looking to North and South American politicians to show the real political courage needed to implement new drug laws which serve the people rather than protecting the interest of organised criminals.
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