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Will Godfrey Will Godfrey

Dutch Courage: An Attitude to Drugs Worth Emulating


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Dutch drug policy has long stood out for embracing new approaches before others dare. Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are most familiar to foreigners and headline writers, but the country has a proud record of rolling out other innovative and effective harm reduction policies, too.

The Netherlands is actually far from being the druggy free-for-all that images of Amsterdam’s tourist quarter might suggest. Rather than ideology, Dutch policies are principally guided by a pragmatic, people-first approach that most other countries ought to learn a great deal from. This statement by the Netherlands at the 57th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs—taking place right now in Vienna—is a good illustration:

The Dutch policy is based on a balanced approach between demand and supply. We have a creative and flexible approach. Since policies could be counter productive and have negative effects, we need to review them. We work on prevention, treatment, harm reduction, social integration and rehabilitation.

We discussed harm reduction… It is not about legalisation but about improving the quality of life of users. Drug consumption rooms are set up in this framework. They provide a more hygienic environment for people to avoid transmission of diseases. Now HIV infections have been reduced among [people who use drugs].

The sale of all drugs is prohibited, but cannabis sale is tolerated in coffee shops. This is to prevent users to involve in organised crime and avoid use of other drugs. The policy had positive outcomes. The Netherlands is taking necessary measures for demand and supply on the basis of evidence and abidance with international obligations.

Human rights is at the heart of drug policy. But violations continue to be carried out in the name of drug control. 12 UN agencies have called for the closure of compulsory treatment centres. We support this call. In many countries, the death penalty is used for drugs offences – the Netherlands is against the use of the death penalty in any circumstances.

Dutch policy is more pragmatic than the popular image suggests. Photo Via