Editor’s note: On 25 August 2010, the Los Angeles Times published an open editorial written by 6 former US drug czars referring to cannabis policies in the Netherlands. On 2 September 2010, ENCOD president Fredrick Polak sent the following open letter to the LA Times.
To the Editors of the Los Angeles Times:
The recent Op-Ed authored by current and former American Ã¢â‚¬Å“drug czarsÃ¢â‚¬Â once again misrepresented the Dutch experience with cannabis Ã¢â‚¬Å“coffee shopsÃ¢â‚¬Â as a warning to Americans about removing cannabis from the black market.
First, they refer to Ã¢â‚¬Å“AmsterdamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcoffee shopÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ marijuana sales.Ã¢â‚¬Â Cannabis coffee shops are not just restricted to Amsterdam. Local councils have the right to decide whether or not to allow coffee shops, and they can be found in more than 50 cities and towns across the country, not just in tourist centers, like the capital. Some coffeeshops have even been established by local councils, because the situation without decriminalized access to cannabis for adults was worse.
Right now, only the retail sale of five grams is tolerated, so black market production remains a problem, just as it is in the US. The mayors of a majority of the cities with coffeeshops have urged the national government to also decriminalize growth, wholesale and transport – the supply side.
A poll taken earlier this year indicated that some 50% of the Dutch population thinks cannabis should be fully legalized while only 25% wanted a complete ban.
Second, while it is true that the number of coffee shops has fallen from its peak of around 2,500 throughout the country, there are still more than 700 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if that is a Ã¢â‚¬Å“few hundredÃ¢â‚¬Â, then okay.
Third, the problems with Ã¢â‚¬Å“drug touristsÃ¢â‚¬Â are largely confined to cities and small towns near our borders with Germany and Belgium. These problems, mostly involving traffic jams, are at least as much the result of cannabis prohibition in our neighboring countries as they are the result of Dutch tolerance.
Fourth, Ã¢â‚¬Å“public nuisance problemsÃ¢â‚¬Â with the coffee shops are minimal when compared with bars, as is demonstrated by the rarity of calls for the police for problems at coffee shops.
Fifth, it is true that lifetime and Ã¢â‚¬Å“past-monthÃ¢â‚¬Â use rates did increase back in the seventies and eighties, but the Czars shamefully failed to report that there were comparable and larger increases in cannabis use in our neighboring countries which continued complete prohibition.
Most outrageously, the drug czars ignore the well known and undisputed statistics that show that Dutch use of cannabis remains about half that of the US and is comparable to Ã¢â‚¬â€œ or less than Ã¢â‚¬â€œ use in our neighboring countries with more repressive policies. Moreover, Dutch heroin use rates are also less than half of US rates. We attribute that fact to what we call the Ã¢â‚¬Å“separation of the marketsÃ¢â‚¬Â for hard and soft drugs.
My organization, ENCOD, European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, spreads the scientifically based claim that the theory of prohibition has been falsified by the Dutch experience with cannabis decriminalization.
It is my firm belief that the American people, and certainly Californians, would support decriminalizing drugs and regulating drug markets, if only they knew that the drug problem in their country is much worse than in countries with more liberal policies. The problem is that Americans do know that their country has a serious drug problem, but they also believe or are convinced that in the Netherlands and other European countries the situation is even worse. This is what they have heard from their governments and drug czars.
There is a tradition of lies being told by US officials, especially about the Netherlands. An earlier drug czar, I believe it was Lee Brown, warned that visiting Amsterdam means stumbling over junkies in the center of town. In 1998, just before the start of a Ã¢â‚¬Å“fact-finding missionÃ¢â‚¬Â to the Netherlands, then US Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey claimed that Dutch drug policy was an “unmitigated disaster”. He claimed that the U.S. had less than half the murder rate of the Netherlands Ã¢â‚¬â€ 8.22 murders per 100,000 people in 1995 compared to 17.58 in the Netherlands. “ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s drugs,” he explained.
The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics issued a special press release explaining that the actual Dutch murder rate is 1.8 per 100,000 people, or less than one-quarter the U.S. murder rate.
It is not known whether McCaffrey understood the implications of the link which he implied between murder rate and drug policy for the American situation.
I hope that the American people will at least have access to accurate information when they decide what cannabis policies will work best. Americans have not ceased to be smart or pragmatic. They have been systematically misled. If they absorb the knowledge about the state of the drug problem in their own country and elsewhere, I cannot imagine that they will continue to support drug prohibition.
Dr. Frederik Polak
President of ENCOD, European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies