Amsterdam Drugs Policy
It is common knowledge throughout the world that in Amsterdam you may enter a coffee shop and buy soft drugs (weed, magic truffles, salvia and peyote cactus). What is more – you will be handed a menu with drugs of the day, and there might be even a special on the menu. It is all accessible – for four joints you will pay the same price as for twenty cigarettes. Nobody will arrest you, because it is legal. So what kind of laws are these? Aren’t the Dutch concerned about the real dangers of drug abuse? Amsterdam drug laws evolved the same way as laws in other countries during the past century, but the solutions taken in the Netherlands, differ from the rest of the world.
Dutch drug laws
coffee shop amsterdamDutch drug policy is directed by an idea that every human being may decide about the matters of its own health. The Dutch consider this rule as fundamental, accepting for example the possibility of the controlled suicide (euthanasia), for terminally ill patients. Although this is also possible in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and some parts of the US. Another idea which guides Dutch laws in their drug policy is a conviction that hiding social negative phenomena does not make them to disappear – on the contrary makes them worse, because when concealed, they become far more difficult to influence and control.
Applying these ideas to their drug laws the Dutch try as much as possible to decriminalize the use of drugs, making it a private matter of each individual, and not a matter for the enforcement apparatus. Production, trading and stocking drugs remain a criminal offence, as in any other country.
The Dutch see the use of drugs as a health matter, similar to the use of tobacco and alcohol, and in fact not very distant from problems of obesity, alcoholism and tobacco smoking. They also point to the fact that prohibition of alcohol in the US in the years 1919-1933 brought more negative effects of increased criminality, than the positive social changes and had to be withdrawn.
The Dutch have divided drugs into two groups, depending on their influence on human health – soft drugs and hard drugs. Hard drugs as cocaine, LSD, morphine, heroin are forbidden in the Netherlands as in any other country.
Soft drugs as cannabis in all its forms (weed, hashish, hash oil) and hallucinogenic mushrooms (so called magic mushrooms or paddos – from Dutch: paddestoel – mushroom) are legal under condition of so called “personal use”. As a result smoking of cannabis even in public, is not prosecuted as well as selling it although technically illegal under still valid Opium Act (dating from 1919, cannabis added as drug in 1950), is widely tolerated provided that it happens in a limited, controlled way (in a coffee shop, small portions, 5 grams maximum transaction, not many portions on stock, sale only to adults, no minors on the premises, no advertisement of drugs, the local municipality did not give the order to close the coffee shop).
pro paddos demostration amsterdamThe sale of most of hallucinogenic mushrooms (also known as magic mushrooms or paddos), has been forbidden starting November 1, 2008. More than 200 different mushrooms were put on the ban list and are presently regarded by the Dutch drug law (so called Opiumwet – Opium Act) as dangerous as cocaine or heroine. Never really considered as drugs before, the paddos were previously sold by the so called smart shops along with popular natural medicines as Ginkgo Biloba, Guarana, Cola, some herbs, food additives and vitamins. The decision to stop their sale has been taken after almost a hundred cases were recorded each year, when the medical help has been required linked to the consumption of paddos in Amsterdam only, involving mainly foreign tourists. Tragically, three of these cases ended as serious accidents, one of them in the tragic death of the 17-year old French girl. Hundreds of people demonstrated in Amsterdam against the ban, before it had been introduced. Today, the hallucinogenic mushrooms are forbidden in the Netherlands, along with the hard drugs.
While several sorts of mushrooms – most notably the less-strong “truffles” – were probably by omission not placed on the ban list, smart shops continue now and then to sell them. In addition, the spores of some paddos are sometimes on sale.
We strongly advise you to never try the hallucinogenic mushrooms, as their influence on each human organism is different, and you may be exposing to a serious health risk, by using them in any form.
Strictly restricted quantities, large scale cultivation forbidden
In the Netherlands, there are strict laws limiting quantities of the admitted soft drugs, conditions of theirs sale and use. Driving under the influence of the soft drugs is equal to driving under the influence of alcohol. Large scale growing, processing and trading in marijuana is still forbidden as in any other country, but the penalties given by the courts are much lower than abroad.
Some of the municipalities in the Netherlands introduce their own additional regulations regarding specific issues related to law enforcement, prosecution and use of the soft drugs. In the spirit of pragmatism, minor offences as a small violation of the admitted quantities, are usually not prosecuted, since the prosecution and imprisonment is seen by the authorities as expensive and linked to several other negative social effects which outweigh the positive.
The Dutch did not solve the question of the controlled supply of soft drugs. While the large-scale growth and trade of marijuana is forbidden and prosecuted, the question remains how the coffee shops all over the country can obtain their supplies within this law.
The Dutch do not see their tolerant policy towards limited soft drug use as some miraculous solution. They try to prevent the drug abuse through the educational measures, closely monitoring the scene of the drug abuse, fighting with the consequences of the abuse by the health measures such as the free testing of the ecstasy pills, the free syringe exchange program and the free methadone (surrogate of heroine) supply program for the heroine users. Today in 60 Dutch cities, hundreds of these programs operate on daily basis, deeply influencing life in the country. At the same time, Dutch authorities try to eliminate deadly illegal drugs by combating drug trafficking. Then again, through their tolerant policies towards soft drugs, they hope to be able to better control the social phenomena of drug abuse. For example, the statistical data certifies that among young people of medium age 28 in the Netherlands, only 16% ever smoked marijuana. Soft drugs when widely accessible seem to lose much of their appeal.