Cohen, Peter (2000), Het hazenpad. Justitiekrant, April 2000. English translation by Jeanette Roberts.
© Copyright 2000 Peter Cohen. All rights reserved.

[Dutch] [German]

Chickening out

Peter Cohen

The brief Het pad naar de achterdeur (The road to the backdoor) by Mr. Korthals, Minister of Justice, is a surprisingly clear, at times expertly written document. It expresses trust in our tolerance policy, which — under the present circumstances — is very encouraging.

The Minister of Justice reacts to the plan of 22 mayors to regulate the entire cannabis trade through legal growing of marijuana. His contribution revives a drug policy discussion that had somewhat subsided. Het pad naar de achterdeur represents the counterpoint to the recently published report by Mr. van der Stel. In his captivating book Een nieuw drugbeleid? (A new drug policy?), he pleads for considering ways of how to regulate all drug use in a legal form. Because, he says, the development towards the normalisation of drug use among the population is already ongoing for a long time.

Het pad naar de achterdeur is a bizarre title for a document that should better have been named Het hazenpad, weg van de achterdeur ('Chickening away' from the backdoor). The Minister of Justice completely tears apart the plan of the town mayors, which he perceives to be unfeasible. His legal reasoning is cleverly thought through, and the practical grounds are partly justified. But why then is the brief so unconvincing? Because it suggests that the cannabis issue is pretty much under control due to the decrease in the number of coffee shops! The authorities are overly fearful that there is an increased likelihood that the 'youth' would get into contact with hard drugs through these 'illegal cannabis sales outlets'. The brief paints a far too pessimistic picture of the European drug policy climate and its current possibilities. Much worse, however, hidden between the lines, the brief justifies the previously implemented intensification of the repression.

The fact that the plan of the city mayors contains a few major difficulties is no valid reason for depicting the need for solving/regulating the backdoor issue as absolutely unfeasible. The idea that the mayors want to get a grip on the entire cannabis trade by tolerated growing of cannabis in Holland is naive, and in view of the limited numbers of police officers and its crime-conducive effect, even undesirable. However, as with the coffee shops, it is not necessary to get the entire cannabis trade under control. Coffee shops cannot prevent the sale of cannabis outside of coffee shops in any case. There is plenty of cannabis selling going on outside of coffee shops and this situation will remain as long as the Netherlands does not have a good spatial arrangement policy for licensed coffee shops. But does this lessen the importance of the existing coffee shops, distribution, and the policy climate? Of course not — starting to regulate the growing of marijuana is a stepwise contribution to obtaining complete control of the entire system of cannabis production and distribution. "No", says the brief, and "No" says the PM, this is impossible, as it would violate international treaties. As if these treaties were engraved in stone! As if we couldn't stretch these treaties on certain points or mothball them, just as we did with regard to our coffee shop policy! There are plenty of lawyers at the Justice Ministry, who could work out proposals that incorporate more modern views. Did the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) invade Germany, when the country, against the wishes of the INCB — the guardian of international treaties — recently provided a legal basis for the so-called injection rooms? Progress is possible!

No, say the gentlemen once more; the mood in Europe is not favourable. Just look at the extensive attachment of the brief. However, others say that the mood is precisely right, and can even be raised. Here, I gladly quote the answer of Minister Borst to questions in the (Dutch) House of Commons: "With regard to the cannabis policy, the latest yearly report of the EMCDDA show that an increasing number of countries are in fact applying a tolerance policy with respect to individual drug users. The many bilateral contacts between Dutch and foreign experts and policymakers show furthermore that there is a great deal of appreciation for the Dutch (cannabis) policy."

What better time for a good discussion with our new friend Chirac, and to present him right now, (when he needs us), with the arguments to further decriminalise issues in the framework of our tolerance policy. An increasing number of French citizens are ready for it, including the official top. And in view of the heated debate in the UK, many British people feel the same. That America applies the brake with all its might provides a magnificent challenge for our ambassador in Washington.

No courage

The brief by Justice Minister Korthals is an exhaustive portrayal of the lack of courage of the 'Paarse Kabinet' (the currently ruling coalition in the Netherlands formed by the VVD, PvdA and D66) to even carefully venture onto the road to regulate the 'backdoor' issue. Furthermore, it is the confirmation of an already commenced and counterproductive sharpening of the repression. "As a whole, maintaining the legal interdictions should receive a more intense character", is written in the brief. However, it does not become clear at what cost the intensified enforcement will be implemented, nor who will be served by it.

If the Netherlands does not dare to develop its policy of tolerance, it will become a "policy of extinction".