Proceedings of the Special Committee on
Issue 11 - Evidence (morning session)
OTTAWA, Monday, November 19, 2001
The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs met today at 8:42 a.m. to reassess
Canada's anti-drug legislation and policies. Van Solinge
Senator Pierre Claude Nolin (Chairman) presiding.
The Chairman: Accordingly, I would like to call this public meeting of
the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs to order.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to today's proceedings. I want to take
this opportunity to welcome those who have traveled here to Ottawa for this
meeting, as well as anyone listening in on the radio, or tuning in via
television or the Internet.
The committee is composed of five senators: the Honourable Colin Kenny from
Ontario, who serves as Deputy Chairman; the Honourable Tommy Banks from Alberta;
Senator Shirley Maheu from Quebec, and Senator Terry Stratton from Manitoba. I
am Senator Pierre Claude Nolin and I am part of the Quebec contingent in the
Senate of Canada.
Assisting me today are the clerk of the committee, Mr. Daniel Charbonneau, as
well as the committee's Director of Research, Dr. Daniel Sansfaçon.
The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs has received a mandate to study
and to report on the actual Canadian policies concerning cannabis in its
context, to study the efficiency of those policies, their approach, the means,
as well as the controls, used to implement them. In addition to its initial
mandate, the committee must examine the official policies adopted by other
The international responsibilities of Canada with regard to the conventions on
illegal drugs, to which Canada is a signatory, will also be examined. The
committee will also study the social and health effects of the Canadian drug
policies on cannabis and the potential effects of alternatives policies.
Lastly, the committee is slated to table its final report in August of 2002. In
order to fulfill its mandate properly, the committee has adopted an action plan.
This plan has three major steps.
The first step is to gather knowledge. In order to expand out our knowledge of
this subject, we will be hearing from an impressive range of Canadian and
foreign experts from academia, law enforcement, the justice system, the medical
and social communities and from government. The hearings will be held mainly in
Ottawa, and from time to time, outside the capital, if need be.
The second step of our action plan is to share the knowledge that we will be
acquiring. In my estimation, this is the most valuable part of the process. The
committee hopes that Canadians from coast to coast will learn more about these
issues and share the information that we will be gathering. Our challenge will
be to plan and organize this system to ensure that this knowledge is made
available to Canadians and is accessible. We are also interested in hearing the
opinions of Canadians on this matter. To this end, the committee will be holding
public hearings in various locations across the country in the spring of 2002.
Third, the committee will be looking very closely at the guiding principles
underlying Canada's public policy on drugs.
Before I introduce you to the distinguished experts of today's hearing, I wish
to inform you that the committee maintains an up-to-date Web site. The site is
accessible through the parliamen tary Web site and can be reached at
www.parl.gc.ca. The proceedings of the committee are posted there. It includes
the briefs and the appropriate support documentation of our expert witnesses. We
also keep an up-to-date list of more than 150 links to other related sites.
I would like to say a few words about the room in which we are meeting today.
Known as the Aboriginal Peoples Room, it was set aside by the Senate in 1996 to
pay tribute to North America's first inhabitants who continue today to take an
active part in the growth and development of Canada. Four of our Senate
colleagues are proud representatives of our first nations.
This committee is pursuing an examination of the drug policies implemented by
other countries. Today we will study the drug policy of the Netherlands. Tim
Boekhout Van Solinge once wrote that Dutch drug policy has at times been
vilified in some countries and that one might reasonably ask how these negative
conclusions have been reached when this same policy has been positively
evaluated by the large majority of Dutch officials and specialists and is
generally judged to be achieving its objectives. How and why does such a
radically different picture prevail in these other countries?
To help us understand the principles, the paradigms and the politics in and
around the Dutch drug policy, we have this morning, from the Ministry of Health,
Welfare and Sports of the Netherlands, Mr. Robert Keizer, Drug Policy Advisor.
He will be followed by Professor Dirk J. Korf from the Bonger Institute of
Criminology, University of Amsterdam, and from the Ministry of Justice of the
Netherlands, Mr. Steven Van Hoogstraten, Director for International Criminal
Affairs and Drugs Policy.
This afternoon we will have, from Utrecht University, Mr. Tim Boekhout Van
Solinge, Lecturer and Researcher in Criminology.
Mr. Bob Keizer has been the head of the addiction policy division of the
Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports of the Netherlands from 1992 to 2000. In
this capacity, he was a member of the management board of the European
Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA, of the European Union.
He still serves as the Dutch permanent respondent in the Pompidou Group of the
Council of Europe. In a previous position he was in charge of health education,
mental health care and consumer policy. He graduated in medical law at the
University of Leyden in 1977. At this moment, he is the drug policy advisor for
the Minister of Health, specially charged with organizing a scientific
conference on cannabis and the coordina tion of the National Drug Monitor.
Mr. Keizer, welcome to this morning's hearings. We thank you for accepting our
invitation and for showing interest in the work of our committee.
We will hear your presentation. Following that, we will have questions for you.
If, at the end of the question and answer period, there are still questions that
the various researchers of the committee wish me to ask, we will provide those
questions in writing. Please proceed.
Mr. Robert Keizer, Drug Policy Advisor, Ministry of Health, Welfare and
Sports of the Netherlands: Honourable senators, I thank you on behalf of the
other members of the delegation for opportunity to make a presentation in regard
to the implementation of our drug policy.
There are four of us. Each of us has produced a paper that is in your
possession. I wish to give a general presentation of our drug policy. I know the
issue today is cannabis, but in my view you can only have fair judgment of
cannabis policy if you have a fair view of the drug policy as a whole. I would
like to draw you a picture about the philosophy behind our drug policy, with a
special focus on cannabis.
I have referred to several sources of information. I recommend that to you and
the Internet site of the Trimbos Institute, which has a lot of valuable
information. I would also like to refer to the information that is provided by
the EMCDDA. You have already mentioned that. That is the drug observatory of the
I would like to give you some key information about the Netherlands because I
believe - and I think you would agree - that the policy must fit in a culture
and a country in order to have it accepted by a population.
The Netherlands is a densely populated country of16 million people who live on
land that is one-quarter the size of Vancouver Island. Trade and transport are
key industries of the Netherlands. Rotterdam is the biggest seaport in the
world. More than 6 million containers are transshipped per year in the harbour
of Rotterdam. There are practically open borders. There are border controls on
the outskirts of the European Union, but there are practically no border
controls, for instance, with Germany, our neighbouring country.
We have a strong responsibility for the collective welfare. We have a highly
developed and high quality health care and educational system that are
practically free and accessible to everyone. That is because we are one of the
richest countries in the world, fortunately.
Another important thing is that we have a strong belief in the separation
between church and state, or in other words, separation between morals and the
state. We believe the state must refrain from interference with matters such as
privacy, private opinion and moral issues. There is strong separation between
the role of the state and the role of the individual, which stems from the 17th
century. Perhaps this explains why we have special policies on drugs, abortion,
euthanasia and prostitution. These items are characterized by a delicate debate
that boils down to the role of the state and the individual.
We live with political diversity. Each government consists of coalitions between
several parties because no party has a majority. The existing government
consists of a coalition between liberals, social democrats and liberal
democrats. It is likely that the next government will have another composition.
On the one hand there is a sense of tolerance and on the other hand there is a
sense of responsibility for collective welfare. There is a tradition of
tolerance also on moral issues.
I mention these characteristics of our people because the characteristics are
found in our drug policy. Our drug policy stems from 1976. We now have more than
25 years experience. One of the major points is that our drug policy does not
moralize in regard to drugs. It seeks practical solutions, but it is not
Another assumption is that we must accept that drugs are a fact of life, whether
or not we like it. Drugs are just there. We do not believe in a drug-free
society, although everybody would like to have that, or perhaps not, but it is
an illusion. That is a starting point for our drug policy.
The protection of health, or harm reduction, has been the primary goal of our
drug policy right from the beginning. The protection of the health of the
individual user - and also of the environment - is the primary goal of our drug
At the same time, we believe in a balanced approach between demand reduction and
supply reduction. There is a close collaboration between justice and health. The
Minister of Health has been the coordinating minister for drug policy right from
The legal basis of our drug policy is the Opium Act and that is, again, the
responsibility of the Minister of Health. The Opium Act lists drugs with
unacceptable risk such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, all drugs except cannabis,
which is on a second list. In regard to cannabis, the possession of cannabis up
to 30 grams is a minor offence; above that weight, it is a criminal offence.
Another important thing to mention is that drug use is not prohibited under
As a reflection of this primary emphasis on health, we have a highly developed
and extensive system of addict care: treatment facilities, clinical, outpatient.
We have everything. It works on the philosophy of an integrated approach. We
expect every health and social worker to work together in the treatment.
General practitioners play an important role. In the city of Amsterdam, the
majority of physicians prescribe methadone to addicts. That is another example
of the integration of the addict into the treatment system and, with that, into
Prevention is an important instrument, especially in regard to cannabis. I
believe that prevention is one of the most important tools in reducing the
prevalence of cannabis. We have highly sophisticated school programs. I would
refer again to the Trimbos Institute Internet site that outlines a comprehensive
overview of prevention activities. I believe in investments in prevention,
especially in investments in innovation of prevention. That is often forgotten,
but one of the most important tools is investment in innovation and in
evaluation of prevention activities because it is one of the few tools that can
influence cannabis prevalence.
Another example of our harm reduction approach is the methadone prescription.
Methadone has been prescribed to addicts on a large scale in the Netherlands
since the 1980s. It is freely accessible. It is also prescribed without
preconditions. We are not asking the drug addict to be drug free before he can
enter a prescription program. That is because one of the major intentions behind
this is to create a regular contact between the addict and the treatment system.
That is the philosophy behind this prescription policy.
Syringes are distributed on a large scale in the Netherlands. In the city of
Amsterdam alone, more than 1 million syringes are distributed per year free of
When discussing cannabis, we must discuss the coffee shops. Everyone knows about
the coffee shops. Coffee shops are outlets where people can buy up to five grams
of cannabis per transaction. Coffee shops are not legal. Technically, they are
illegal because the possession and the sale of cannabis, even in small
quantities, is illegal under our existing Opium Act. However, coffee shop owners
are not prosecuted. They are illegal under the law, but they are not prosecuted.
This is due to the expediency principle that we have in the Netherlands. This
principle allows the public prosecutor to refrain from prosecution on the
weighty grounds of public interest. In other words, as a general application in
the penal law, the public prosecutor in the Netherlands has the authority to
decide whether or not to prosecute. This is what happened with the coffee shops.
Technically, coffee shops are illegal, depending on the amount of cannabis sold,
but they are not prosecuted. The public prosecutors have guidelines for this
that are published on the Internet. Everyone knows what the guidelines are and
the guidelines are regularly discussed in Parliament when necessary.
For the coffee shops there are six important guidelines. They are not allowed to
advertise. They are not allowed to sell hard drugs, that being the most
important guideline. They are not allowed to cause a nuisance in neighbourhoods.
They arenot allowed to sell to people under 18 years of age. They are not
allowed to sell more than five grams per transaction. They arenot allowed to
have more than 500 grams of cannabis in stock.
Those are the most important guidelines and if coffee shop owners follow those
guidelines, they will not be prosecuted. However, I repeat that technically
coffee shops are illegal but they are not prosecuted. I will return to the
problems with this situation later, but that is our current situation.
The philosophy behind these coffee shops, which we have had for more than 25
years, is the separation of the cannabis market from other markets. We believe
that it is better not to criminalize young people, most of whom are
experimenting for a short period with cannabis. We believe that it is not wise
to give them a criminal record just because they have used cannabis for a short
period in their lives. We believe it is better to separate this market from more
dangerous markets, such as the heroin market and markets of other more addictive
drugs. That is the underlying philosophy behind coffee shops.
Mr. Van Hoogstraten of the Ministry of Justice will tell you everything about
our coffee shops. This is just to give you an idea of the place of our coffee
shop policy within the whole of our drug policy.
There are two misunderstandings about the Netherlands. The first is that drugs
are legal. I hope I have made clear to you that they are not legal. We simply
have decriminalization of cannabis at the consumer level and all the rest is
illegal. The second misunderstanding is that we are supposed to be soft on the
supply side of the drug market. I have given you some examples about this in my
written presentation. Last year, we seized more than 40,000 kilograms of
cannabis and more than 660,000 cannabis plants. We closed down more than 1,300
nursery gardens and seized more than 5.5 million ecstasy tablets. That far
exceeds the average seizures made in other European countries. It is a
misunderstanding to think that we are soft on drug production and drug trade.
Even Mr. McCaffrey admitted that in his latest report, which I think is a
I will now turn to results. The first criterion of results is measured in terms
of harm reduction, that being our primary goal. From that viewpoint, our policy
has been rather successful. We saw a sharp rise in cannabis use in the 1980s.
Along with that, we saw a rise in the number of problematic cannabis users. It
is estimated that 1 per cent of cannabis users run into problems with so-called
cannabis addiction or cannabis psychosis. The good news is that we have seen a
stabilization of cannabis use in the last years. More important, if we compare
this trend with the trends in other countries, we see exactly the same patterns.
There was a rise in the 1980s not only in the Netherlands but in every other
western country. This leads us to the conclusion that it is unlikely that there
is a correlation between policy and prevalence. There are more and more
indications that youth trends - culture, pop music or whatever - are much more
influential than policy. That is an important lesson.
With regard to hard drugs - heroin and cocaine - the number of users has
stabilized at a rather modest level. It is estimated that there are 2.5 hard
drug users per 1,000 inhabitants, which represents 40,000 people. More
important, this number has been stable for more than 10 years. In fact, it is
the same group of people. There are hardly any young people entering this group.
The group is getting older and older, which is a very positive sign.
If you combine the rise in cannabis use and the stabilization of hard drug use,
you come to the conclusion that the stepping stone theory did not prove
accurate. Had it been accurate, there would have been a rise in hard drug usage.
With regard to morbidity and mortality, our figures are also positive as a
result of the harm reduction efforts. We have a modest number of HIV-infected
people and drug-related deaths.
On this point, I wish to make a correction to the data in my introduction. With
regard to drug related deaths, we have one-half drug related death per 100,000
inhabitants rather than the1,000 indicated here. In concrete numbers, we have
about80 drug related deaths per year in the Netherlands. Comparing these figures
with Germany and the U.K., Germany has twice as many drug related deaths and the
U.K. has five times as many drug related deaths. These figures are very
The final trend we have seen is the very sharp increase in ecstasy use in the
last few years, which also happened in other countries. Again, the positive news
is that those figures are decreasing, especially in the last year. Ecstasy is
becoming an unpopular drug in the Netherlands.
I wish to stress that these figures are reliable and indisputable. They may vary
by 1 per cent, but the general picture is reliable. They are validated by the
EMCDDA, the official organization of the European Union in which 15 European
I stress this because I know that much wrong data about the Netherlands is
distributed everywhere in the world, including here and in the United States.
Unfortunately, I noticed the Canadian Police Association has produced a report
that is, I am afraid to say, very incorrect about this. I do not say this
because I am a Dutchman. You also might ask someone else from the scientific
world. These general patterns and conclusions are reliable.
Let me share with you some of the current issues in the Netherlands because I do
not want to leave the impression it is a complete success story. It is not. We
take the problem seriously. We have done our best, but, of course, we have made
mistakes. There is a continuous debate in the Netherlands, and rightfully so.
Every country should have a continuous debate on drug related issues. I would be
very happy to share some of the major points of discussion with you here.
Of course, the coffee shops, as I have already mentioned, have been a major
point of discussion in the Netherlands for many years. Debate started again in
the 1990s, when there were more and more complaints by civilians about nuisance
caused by coffee shops. The complaints were about petty crimes committed by
visitors and the nuisance caused by cars running off and on the street, causing
the kinds of trouble that pubs cause with drunken people. Also, there were more
and more indications that all levels of criminality were involved, both at the
level of the owner and of the client. Drug tourism was another source of
complaint, especially from the neighbouring countries. More and more people come
from other countries to buy their cannabis.
There was an intensive debate on the coffee shop policy in 1995-96. The outcome
was that we decided to put more control on compliance with the existing
conditions - those criteria I mentioned. Another policy was to gradually reduce
the number of coffee shops in the Netherlands by tightening the rules and
implementing stricter control. As a result of those measures, the number of
coffee shops has been reduced from 1,200 in 1995 or 1996 to 800 this year, which
is a reduction of 25 per cent.
Personally, I do not think that was the most important point of discussion. In
fact, the key issue was the debate about the back door and the front door, as we
call it in the Netherlands. The back door is the sale to the consumer. Everybody
is happy with that. I explained the philosophy behind it of decriminalisation
and separation of the markets. Policemen feel it allows them to keep the
situation under control, which is very important for the police. There was no
debate about the front door, but there was a continuous debate about the back
door, as it is no secret that the cannabis has to be purchased on the illegal
market. Nobody wants to beat around the bush about that.
In other words, we have only succeeded in solving half of the problem, which is
always better than solving nothing, but we have not solved the problem
completely. This was indeed and still is the discussion in the Netherlands
because what we are doing in technical terms is to forbid something on the one
hand, and allow it on the other hand. This might work as a temporary solution.
The original idea in 1976 was to create a temporary solution because everybody
was expecting some form of legalization or whatever. However, 25 years later we
are still in the same situation.
I think that the weak spot is not how it functions but the legal or the
semi-legal status of the coffee shops because, in the long run, the situation
will lead to a non-credible government, in general terms. I think civilians are
entitled to clarity on what is allowed and what is not allowed. It might work as
a temporary solution, but it cannot work as a structural solution.
I would like to clarify this, and you could askMr. Van Hoogstraten of the
Ministry of Justice and the other experts: No one wants to go back to the
situation before coffee shops. I think that is beyond any discussion. No one
wants to go back. No one wants to close them down.
At the same time, no one can move forward. The main argument that is used for
that is the international drug treaties or international pressure, to put it in
more general terms. That is the situation in the Netherlands. That is the
discussion around the coffee shops.
As a result of that, last year, 60 mayors of Dutch cities asked the government
to start an experiment with the system in which cultivation and distribution to
the coffee shops would be brought under control. There was a debate on that in
Parliament. As a result, government decided not to accept that proposal. The
major argument was the existence of the international drug treaties and the fear
of international pressure.
A positive outcome, however, was that the government promised to organize a
conference with European cities in order to determine whether we are the only
country facing these problems or whether our problems are shared with many other
countries. I know the latter is the case. As a result of that, a conference will
be organized on December 6, 7 and 8 in Utrecht, Netherlands. It will be a city
conference on the practice of cannabis policy at the European scale.
The second result is that our ministers of health, together with the ministers
of health of Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and France, decided to organize a
scientific conference to determine the exact state of scientific research. It
will be held on February 25. I am very happy to also have invited Mr. Sansfaçon
to participate there.
That is the debate on coffee shops in the Netherlands.
I also would like to comment on the problem of drug dealing and drug production
in the Netherlands. It is no secret that much drug production and trafficking
takes place from the Netherlands, or via the Netherlands, especially cannabis
and ecstasy. That is a major point of concern for our government. We have
invested a lot in our efforts to reduce this. I would like to refer that to Mr.
Van Hoogstraten this afternoon. We are doing our utmost to fight this
phenomenon. The key issue is whether large-scale drug dealing and production are
occurring in the Netherlands because of our policy of tolerance towards users
and coffee shops, or whether it is independent of that. In other words, can the
reason for this phenomenon be found in the fact that we have decriminalized at
the consumer level? Has the harm reduction policy caused us to have a lot of
organized crime in the Netherlands?
That is a very complex question. If we speak about the 1980s, there is some
truth in that presumption because one might say that we have more or less
neglected the fact that organized crime was settling in the Netherlands, as it
is in many other countries such as Germany, the U.K. and France. We were not
very aware of the fact that organized crime was, more and more, involved in the
However, in the 1990s, as in the examples I have given, it is a misunderstanding
to think that we were soft on organized crime. I would like to mention the fact
that we have the biggest harbour in the world. More than 6 million containers
are transshiped per year. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to
calculate that nine out of ten containers will pass the harbour without being
controlled. It is a matter of fact. Where there is money to be earned, one will
find international business, legal or illegal. Business will always take
advantage of the best transport facilities, which we have in the Netherlands.
That is the main reason.
Another issue is the fact that, at the beginning of the 1990s, we saw dramatic
changes in the drug consumption patterns and in the behaviour of the drug
addicts. I referred to the phenomenon of nuisance caused by addicts and of petty
crime. People felt increasingly less safe in the inner cities.
Another point was the fact that addicts were aging. There are hardly any young
people entering this group and there are few drug addicts dying, as this group
becomes older and older. The average age is 41 and next year it will be 42. We
have already opened the first elderly home for addicts in Rotterdam because
people are aging. Some are over 60. What should they do? This is an immense
challenge for treatment services, because those people are suffering more and
more from cold morbidity and other problems.
Another trend was the sharp rise of ecstasy and synthetic drugs. That was a
major challenge for the prevention workers and for the monitoring system. As a
result of that, although it is not a primary focus of this meeting, we have
developed a sophisticated and high quality policy to respond to those issues.
We have developed a new type of treatment system and a comprehensive policy on
cooperation between police, health authorities and social workers, to reduce,
for example, the problem of nuisance. We began an experiment that compels
re-treatment, which is revolutionary for the Netherlands. Perhaps it will work
and perhaps it will not, but it reflects the fact that we are ready to be as
innovative as possible in response to those problems.
We have initiated innovative treatment methods. I mentioned the heroin
prescription project, which started in 1998 and will be evaluated this year. We
have started large scale project with elevated doses of methadone. Another
interesting project is rapid detoxification, which is done under anaesthesia.
Concerning ecstasy, we have developed an innovative preven tion program and have
stepped up our monitoring efforts. We have Drugs Information and Monitoring
System, DIMS, which is a monitoring system for the quality of the pills. Thanks
to this system, we have data on the quality of ecstasy for the last seven or
eight years. More than 6,000 pills are tested each year, and we know exactly
which pills are on the market. Thanks to DIMS, we can also detect dangerous
pills early on, perhaps within 48 hours, and we know when these pills reach the
market. Because of that system, we have saved many lives in the Netherlands.
This brings me to a remark about the importance of monitoring and research. You
have to invest in monitoring policies, in monitoring systems and in research. It
is costly and it takes time, but it is absolutely essential, if you take the
problem seriously, to invest, as a government, in structural monitoring and
I am very pleased with our Dutch situation where we have an outstanding
monitoring system and a rich source of scientific knowledge. I refer to the site
of the Trimbos Institute, also available in English, that contains the national
drug report. It is a readable, understandable report for non-experts about the
current situation. It is valuable not only for professional policy makers, but
also for politicians, the press and the public so that they understand what is
Before my conclusions, I will speak to relations with other countries. The
Netherlands has been under pressure from many countries over the last 10 years -
Germany, France, U.S.A., Sweden and others. I gave you several examples of this
in my written documentation. It is interesting to note that, when I was in
charge of drug policy at the Ministry of Health, there were three types of
criticism of the Netherlands. First, there was realistic, fundamental criticism
of the Netherlands drug tourism. Second, there was criticism born out of
misunderstanding of the facts. You must explain the facts. Third, there was
criticism based on moral judgments, which is very difficult to tackle. It boils
down to the fact that some people simply do not agree, no matter what the facts
are. Sweden and, to a certain extent the United States, are examples of that
third type of criticism.
Because the Netherlands is heavily dependent on other countries, for trade as
well as other types of relations, we did our utmost to respond to this
criticism. I personally went to German cities to speak with local
administrators. I also went to France to hear what the problems were there. I
concluded that, especially at the local level - mayors, police or health workers
- there are more similarities than differences, more than national politicians
want us to believe. There is also much ignorance, so you can invest in
explanations of the facts. If there is such an exchange of facts and
experiences, that can prove to be very valuable.
I gave you the example of the article written by the American journalist, which
was published in Foreign Affairs Magazine and was quoted by Mr. McCaffrey
and by the Canadian Police Association, which shows there is a great deal of
pure abuse of figures. You have to be careful, when reading this type of
article, to determine whether the data is reliable. Unfortunately, some
criticism is based on the deliberate abuse of figures. This says more about the
distributor of the information than about the Netherlands. It says everything
about the importance of objective, reliable monitoring.
I have also noticed that, in respect to the level of practice of local
government, there is an enormous need to exchange experiences and views. There
is much frustration at the local level with the role of national governments.
Many mayors and police officers feel frustrated about the lack of activity of
national government, which is motivated by international treaties argu ment.
Government simply says that it cannot do anything because it is forbidden under
the existing treaties, and that is the end of the discussion. This causes a
great deal of frustration for local administrators, who face immense problems at
the local level on a daily basis. International treaties are seen as obstacles
rather than as helpful tools. That is an extremely sad development.
On the other hand, there is positive news. More and more countries are following
the Dutch "harm reduction approach." If I compare the existing
situation with that of 10 years ago, you would note that Belgium, Germany,
France, Switzerland, Spain and the U.K. have changed their views on this issue.
There is more and more "bottom-up" harmonization occurring in Europe.
That is a positive result. Mr. Boekhout Van Solinge will tell you about that
because he is the expert and he knows from personal experiences how things have
changed in the last 10 years.
I will now speak to eight conclusions, if I may.
My first conclusion is that our Dutch drug policy, especially on cannabis, has
not led to a significant drug increase compared with other countries. I have
already expressed my doubts about the correlation between policy and prevalence.
The second conclusion is that does not mean the type of policy one follows does
not matter. The more one invests in harm reduction policy, the more it pays off,
just in pure terms of mortality and morbidity. I also believe in a policy that
focuses on the reduction of marginalization. In other words, I would repeat that
the harm caused by criminal records is greater than the harm caused by a few
years of experimental drug use.
The third conclusion is that our cannabis policy has not led to an increase
inhard drugs usage. In other words, the stepping stone theory did not function
in the Netherlands.
The fourth conclusion is there is no proof that our harm reduction policy at the
consumer level has caused the existence of drug production and trade in the
Netherlands. I have explained that already. I admit that it is a continuous
academic debate, but there is no hard proof that our harm reduction policy has
led to this situation.
The fifth conclusion is that monitoring and research are of the utmost
importance. Science, practice and politics must work together, each in its own
role and each independent of one another. Practice, policy makers, politicians
and science must play important roles. Science has to validate data from
practice and inform politicians in order for them to make the right decisions
with respect, for instance, to finance and practice. That is absolutely
The sixth conclusion is a personal conclusion. The political debate, especially
at the international level, is often conducted on the basis of faulty arguments.
A mix of facts and moral judgments is found at that level. Opinions of the
scientists and those of the people who work in practice differ less than
politicians want us to believe. Again, a rapid process of bottom-up
harmonization is taking place in Europe at the moment, not top-down harmoniz
ation, which is often tried. I do not believe that works. This is a bottom-up
The seventh conclusion is the growing awareness that the existing drug treaties
are becoming more obstacles than helpful tools. We have to invest more and more
in an exchange of views, experiences, data and innovation.
My eighth and final conclusion is that drug policy must be developed in a fair
and open climate. I do not want to give the impression that the Dutch drug
policy is a complete success story. Our success was not exactly in what we did,
but how we did it. We did it in an open, fair and rationale debate. That is the
major conclusion on our drug policy.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Keizer. It has been informa tive, and, of
course, we read the various briefs that your group has submitted to the
Administration of the drug policy is given to the local authorities, the
municipalities. Reading your brief and those of other members of your group, it
appears there are some municipalities where there are no coffee shops and many
municipalities that have only one coffee shop or two very small ones. In Canada,
we have a similar concern. Unevenness of application of the law is, for us,
unthinkable because criminal law is federal. The provinces apply it, but there
is only one law for everybody. How can you reconcile those concerns that we have
with what is happening in your country?
Mr. Keizer: To a certain extent, it is comparable with your situation
because we also have one law, but we are talking about the implementation of the
law in practice, which is up to the local triangle: the commissioner of police,
the public prosecutor and the mayor. They make concrete decisions about concrete
situations in their own towns.
You are right that the decision about the existence of, or tolerance for coffee
shops is made at the local level. In principle, they have the possibility of
following the so-called zero option, which is to decide not to tolerate any
coffee shops at all. If they want, they can do that. Usually they decide to
allow just a few coffee shops. It is because the major practical benefits are
more at the level of maintaining public order and keeping the situation under
control. That explains why mayors and police of ficers prefer to tolerate some
The concrete answer is we have a general law and general policy, but the
execution is done at the local level. We believe that people can oversee their
problems at the local level. We cannot oversee local problems in The Hague -
although we live in a very small country compared with yours. There is not only
an intense collaboration between health and justice, but also an intense
collaboration between the national and local levels.
The Chairman: I know you do not want to talk about prevalence as an
evaluation element. I understand why you are saying that. However, we have to,
once in a while, consider prevalence as a tool of evaluation, or at least to
understand trends. In your country, which has one general drug policy with
various local applications, do you compare prevalence in regions or
Mr. Keizer: That is a misunderstanding. I have stressed it more than
three times. I believe in the importance of monitoring. The only thing I said is
that we do not believe in a direct causal relationship between policy and
prevalence. I realize this is a very frustrating message for politicians. You
could ask Dr. Korf to come forward with more proof.
I would like to clarify that, at the scientific conference organized by the five
ministers of health that will be held in February, a major scientific point of
discussion will be the correlation between policy and prevalence. Exactly
because of this, we have invested in monitoring drug consumption at that level
as well as the local level. From the health ministry point of view, and more
from the scientific point of view, it is interesting to determine whether there
are differences at the local level and why they are caused. I think we disagree
on the importance of monitoring the local situation.
The Chairman: Is it true that mayors are not elected?
Mr. Keizer: They are not now and perhaps will not be in the future. That
depends on the political party. Mayors are nominated by the Minister of the
The Chairman: That is like a préfet in France.
Mr. Keizer: The Netherlands was once occupied by. Napoleon.
Senator Banks: Mr. Keizer, it is a pleasure to welcome people from the
Netherlands. As you know, your country occupies a very special place in the
hearts of Canadians.
I have a question, the answer to which will, I suppose, be entirely personal
because this question cannot be answered statistically.
You said that the policy that has been adopted in the Netherlands is possible
because there is a clear understanding among all of the people that there ought
to be a separation not just of church and state but of morality and state. God
knows the Dutch are a moral people. Murder is an immoral act. Graft is an
immoral act. Stealing for its own sake is an immoral act. Those things, I
presume, are in the Criminal Code. Many people in this country and in the United
States and, I suspect, in the Netherlands believe strongly and can present
cogent arguments to the effect that the use of mind-altering substances of any
kind is, per se, immoral if not amoral. We hear a lot from people who believe
that very strongly and who believe, quite aside from the harm that is done and
the criminality of it, that drug use is immoral and therefore ought to be
stamped out and prohibited and that consideration ought to be given to removing
it from the fullest application of legal sanction.
I am not sure what my question is. How did it come about that the Dutch people
were able to draw a line to indicate that these acts, which are immoral, are
crimes and we should appropriately sanction people who do that and beyond this
line, these acts, although we also judge them to be immoral, are not criminal. I
am not sure if I have put my question clearly, but I think you get the idea.
Mr. Keizer: Yes, I do. That is why I started with a brief explanation
about our country and our history. It is important to understand our history.
You must understand the 80 years of war that we had in the 16th and 17th
centuries against the Spanish, which was a religious war between the Catholics
and the Protestants. From that time on we have believed in very strict
separation between the role of the state and the role of the individual. That
does not mean people are not allowed to speak openly about their opinions. For
instance, if people think that drug use is immoral, rightfully so. It is up to
them, to the church, to the community and to society to do their utmost to fight
it, but it is not the role of the state to pronounce moral judgments on drug
The only answer I can give in only a few minutes is that you must find the
reasons for our beliefs in the history and the culture of the Dutch. Of course,
as you stated, this does not mean the Dutch are an immoral people or that we do
not believe in ethics. This is fundamentally a discussion about the role of the
You will find the same discussion on the educational system. For instance, we
have schools based upon religious opinion, Catholic and Protestant schools, and
we have public schools. I could speak for another morning about that history and
the debates that took place about the fundamental role of the state on this
I would also very briefly mention abortion, prostitution and euthanasia. The
four touchy items, so to speak, are drugs, euthanasia, prostitution and
abortion. We have succeeded in legalizing three out of four. The only remaining
point is drugs.
This debate on the attitude of the state stems very deeply from our cultural
roots. There is a continuous debate in the Netherlands about the ethical, moral,
philosophical and religious aspects of drug use and abuse. Let there be no
misunderstanding about it, there is a lot of talk. There are talk shows on TV
and articles in the papers. There is a continuous debate about every aspect,
including the aspects you have mentioned, but that does not make any difference.
The role of the state is to safeguard public health and public order and to
protect us from criminality. That is the role of the state.
The Chairman: On that specific point, the cornerstone of understanding
your drug policy is to understand your beliefs about the role of the state.
Senator Banks alluded to criminal acts that are commonly accepted as wrong.
Everybody agrees murder is wrong. The people have decided that the state should
enforce that as a value and it is right for the state to do that. On the other
hand, the drug policy allows for personal decisions. If I decide it is okay for
me to do it, then the state should not be deciding for me. Am I following you?
Mr. Keizer: You cannot put it so strictly. I have explained that the only
thing that took place was the decriminalization of the individual cannabis
consumer. That is what happened. In measuring the pros and cons, we felt there
were not many negative points, so it is left up to the individual. It is a
different story when we talk about heroin or other more dangerous drugs. There
is, by definition, a role for the state in that.
We are talking about criminalization of the individual cannabis user, which
still takes place in Canada and in the United States. Many people are being
arrested for possession of a few grams of cannabis. That is absolutely
unacceptable in Dutch society. People cannot get a job with the government for
the rest of their lives. There is a broad consensus on that. On the other hand,
there is a broad consensus about the importance of the fight against the illegal
heroin trade. In response, we are ready to invest in the prescription of heroin.
The Chairman: I do not dispute that. I am isolating two things: the
consumer and the commercial component of drugs. We agree on that. Let us stick
to the consumer side of the equation. You say it is acceptable to decriminalize
small quantity possession and use. Netherlands does not have an offence for use,
but other European countries do. You say that decriminalizing, de facto,
possession of small amounts of soft drugs is okay, but not for hard drugs.
Mr. Keizer: That is right.
The Chairman: Why?
Mr. Keizer: Hard drugs are considered to be more dangerous threats to
The Chairman: Is it not still a personal decision?
Mr. Keizer: No, this is an evidence-based decision. We know the effects
of cannabis compared to other more addictive drugs. It is a very rational
discussion and a rational position. We are striving continuously to balance
between the pros and cons, which explains why there is a continuous debate. This
is the result of the debate.
The Chairman: As a matter of policy, do you not judge people who are
using hard drugs? You treat them and focus on the harm caused to those people in
your various policies. Is that the basic principle?
Mr. Keizer: Yes.
We are trying to do that in Canada. As a state, you are determining what is bad
or harmful for people to use, such as hard drugs, and you are imposing a
consumption attitude, but you will not do that for marijuana.
Mr. Keizer: That is right.
The Chairman: Why not do that for tobacco or alcohol?
Mr. Keizer: It is the same balance concerning alcohol and tobacco.
The Chairman: You regulate alcohol and tobacco as we do in Canada.
Mr. Keizer: Yes, but it is an absolutely personal view. The only rational
solution would be to develop a regulatory system parallel to alcohol and
tobacco. That makes sense and would be explainable to the next generation.
The Chairman: It is education, not prohibition, that results in
prevention, as you said.
Mr. Keizer: Yes.
The Chairman: Would that work for any drugs, not only soft drugs but hard
drugs such as ecstasy?
Mr. Keizer: The more dangerous the drug is, the more the state has the
legitimate right to interfere. That is the balance. There must be a constant
assessment of the danger level of the drugs, or alcohol and tobacco. I am also
the first to admit that this is an interesting point of discussion.
The Chairman: Tobacco kills more people.
Mr. Keizer: Tobacco is the gateway drug.
Senator Banks: It is more harmful and it kills more people.
Mr. Keizer: It is one hundredfold or more.
Senator Banks: I hope you understand that we are not quite as dense as we
might seem to be. The subtleties are difficult to understand and, while they are
not impenetrable, you have taken some steps that are hard for some Canadians to
understand and to rationalize.
As you pointed out, if I am a coffee shop owner, I have to buy my supply on the
illegal market. I am in business, so I must, perforce, unless I am to be out of
business very soon, mark up my products. If I buy a sack of marijuana on the
illegal market in the same way that I presume anyone else would - from a street
dealer - the amount that I buy is still illegal and it would make me liable to
prosecution if I were a private individual. However, that does not mean that
those kinds of transactions do not happen. If I buy something for $100, I have
to mark it up to at least $150 or $200 in order to survive in such a business.
On the other hand, if I am the end consumer who just wants to smoke a joint,
could I not buy a supply for my recreational use of marijuana more cheaply on
the street than I could buy it in the coffee shop?
Mr. Keizer: As a consumer, yes, sir, but you are not allowed to do that.
No one is allowed to buy anything. You would be prosecuted, probably.
Senator Banks: How likely am I to be prosecuted if I buy five grams of
marijuana from a street dealer?
Mr. Keizer: That is a hypothetical question.
Senator Banks: The possibility is remote, is it not?
Mr. Keizer: Yes, in theory the possibility is remote.
Senator Banks: If I am the end consumer, why would I go to a coffee shop
and pay $15 if I could pay $10 on the street?
Mr. Keizer: That is what happens. We have evaluated the functioning of
the coffee shops. That information is in the paperwork provided to you. Thirty
per cent of the youngsters, or general customers, are buying cannabis in a
coffee shop, so70 per cent buy it outside. Do not overestimate the role of the
coffee shops. That happens and everyone knows it. This is why no one is very
happy with the situation. On the other hand, it is better to solve part of the
problem instead of nothing, which many other countries have done.
Senator Banks: It is a reasonable assumption, irrespective of the law or
morality and market forces, if the marijuana available in the coffee shops were
cheaper than it is, the percentage of purchasers would increase. Therefore, it
would be better in terms of the legality, control and the quality of the
product. Based on the recommendation of the mayors, you have examined the
possibil ity of growing, as a state, or licensing others to grow, the product.
This is a subject that is being dealt with gingerly now in Canada. The state is
now growing marijuana for medicinal and experimental purposes. Given that you
have made the market open, the logic of that initiative is inescapable. However,
you ran into political pressures because of the treaties, among other things,
and trade pressures from some of your neighbours, I understand. We are sensitive
to that because we have a border with a giant that has an attitude, in respect
to drugs, which is well known. We are, like you, signatory to international
treaties that place certain constraints on us.
Would you tell us anecdotally about what happened and about the kind of
pressures that came to bear? Did your foreign affairs department or your justice
department, in respect of those treaties, give advice that ended the prospect of
states considering legally growing and selling marijuana?
Mr. Keizer: Do you mean the exact arguments that were handled by justice?
Senator Banks: What was the process? What changed the minds of the
Mr. Keizer: It was still the same mind. It was their position right from
the beginning that nothing was allowed under the existing regulations. If you
read the letter of the law, they are right. However, there is also the spirit of
the legislation and the international treaties. Right from the beginning, the
Ministry of Justice was against any form of innovation beyond the existing
limits of the treaties.
On the other hand, existing treaties do not prohibit us from implementing the
expediency principle to find the legal solution we have found. It is possible,
under the existing treaties, to have this expediency principle. In other words,
the Dutch situation, in which drug trading - even in small amounts - and drug
possession are technically illegal but are not prosecuted, falls within the
existing drug treaties.
The Chairman: I have one more question today and I will ask my other
questions in writing, if I may. I am certain that you are monitoring the cost of
all the various components of your policy - prevention and police enforcement.
Is it possible for you to send us such information?
Mr. Keizer: I apologize. It is a very complicated question and I would
never rely on that data because it would be only a rough estimate. Mr. Van
Hoogstraten will speak for the Ministry of Justice, but the parallel between his
ministry and mine is that the government finances our addiction treatment
system. However, it has to take care of treatment and prevention, not only in
respect of drugs but also of alcohol and other addictive substances. That makes
it difficult to calculate how much we invest. To give you an example, my
estimate is that more than 6 million guilders are invested each year just to
monitor the drug situation.
The Chairman: Could you provide those numbers? It is important to know
how much it costs to monitor the policy.
Mr. Keizer: I can make a calculation on that.
The Chairman: Thank you. I will write to you with regard to various
questions. Thank you very much, Mr. Keizer, for your testimony.
As you have shown interest in our work, if there is any other information which
you want to provide the committee, please do so.
We will now hear from Professor Dirk Korf of the Bonger Institute of
Criminology, University of Amsterdam.
Professor Korf, please proceed.
Dr. Dirk J. Korf, Professor, University of Amsterdam: Mr. Chairman, I am
an Associate Professor of criminology at the University of Amsterdam. I was
originally a child psychologist and worked for quite a number of years as an
outreach worker among foreign drug users in particular, as well as prostitutes
and the homeless in the region of Amsterdam. For the past 10 years, my focus has
been on qualitative drug research. In the recent past my focus has been on new
drugs, as opposed to heroin and the traditional problem drugs, as well as on
research on ethnic minorities. That is my job at the University of Utrecht.
At the University of Amsterdam, I have a team of young researchers who study
trends in drug use. One of my interests for some time has been the relationship
between drug policy and informal control and prevalence. You cannot avoid that
question when you are interested in drugs and drug policy and living in a
country like the Netherlands.
Netherlands is a small country. There are always neighbours around asking
questions. One of the key questions is, "What happened with the coffee
shops?" That was one of the questions I addressed in my Ph.D. that made me
a criminologist. That was also a key question that I addressed in the paper that
I sent to you. It sounds so simple. There is almost a natural experiment going
on in the Netherlands. When you read criminology handbooks, there are a number
of assumptions one must make. After criminalization of drugs, prices go up and
quality goes down. There are actually two schools of thought on this matter.
Prohibitionists believe that when you legalize drugs, you get more users.
Anti-prohibitionists or "legalizers," and the Dutch are an example of
this, say decriminalization will not lead to more users. They have a theory that
I would define as the forbidden fruit theory: When it is illegal, people are
more curious and they try to get that forbidden fruit. Reality is always more
One point I would like to stress, which is not in my paper, is that I do not
believe that the Dutch government decided on its two-track policy and the
separation of markets policy because it intended to increase or lower the number
of cannabis users. What it wanted to do, in my understanding, was to try to
reduce the risk of young people being put in prison for something that is not as
harmful as the international conventions lead us to believe.
To understand the concepts behind the decriminalization of cannabis, the goal
was not to increase or reduce the number of cannabis users, but to reduce the
risk of isolating young people from our main society and, through
decriminalisation, increase the risk of coming into contact of hard drugs.
Since decriminalization in the Netherlands in 1976, the quantities of hashish
and marijuana seized by Dutch customs and police have skyrocketed. The annual
seizures are much bigger than in surrounding countries. From that perspective,
one might think that there is more supply, so there would be more demand as
well. However, that is a very simple and not uncommon way to analyze drug
policies or cannabis policies internationally. One fact is clear: The Dutch
authorities confiscate huge amounts of cannabis. Is that proof of an increase in
use of cannabis after the decriminalization? I do not think so. I will try to
summarize the findings over the past 25 years.
There was hardly any cannabis in the Netherlands available when the drug was
included in the Opium Act. The first signs of cannabis use go back to the period
before World War II when the Amsterdam police would arrest people with a few
grams once or twice a year. With the advent of "flower power" and so
on, by the end of the 1960s, the number of cannabis users in the Netherlands was
estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. Though at the beginning it was not very
systematic, from 1960 onwards there have been a series of studies that allow us
to evaluate how cannabis use has evolved. There is one complication. When we
consider the so-called household surveys in which a representative sample of
people in the Netherlands are interviewed, there is a steady increase in people
who have tried cannabis at least once in their lives. However, that does not
tell us much more than: Since the 1960s, new generations of young people have
We should be more interested in what we call current use. Unfortunately, there
are not many sophisticated figures. All we know is that from 2 per cent to 3 per
cent of Dutch people of 12 years and above in the early 1970s tried hashish or
marijuana. That figure rose to 6 per cent to 10 per cent during the 1980s. Today
that figure is about 15 per cent. All we know is that more people have tried
marijuana. Actually, the first generation of users, those from the 1960s, are
now almost senior citizens. They are the parents and sometimes grandparents of
the younger generations of users.
Current users are asked, "Did you smoke marijuana or hashish in the past
year or past month?" It was surprising for most Dutch people that only one
of six of Dutch people above the age of 12 had ever used cannabis. That means
that five of every six people had never smoked a joint. We thought these figures
would be higher in a decriminalized situation. In a situation where a product is
fairly available through coffee shops, five of six people had never tried
marijuana. According to the study, 2.5 per cent were current users. Putting it
another way, 97.5 per cent are not current users.
In our case, most people do not use cannabis for a prolonged period of time. I
would assume that is not unlike the situation in Canada. Some people do not like
it right from the start. It makes them sleep, it makes them giggle, or they feel
nothing. Even if they enjoy it, after a while the fun is over. In most
unscientific terms, that is what you will hear from users and former users. The
vast majority consume cannabis for a short period of time. Scientists define
that as experimental. I am aware that in some countries that term is not
politically correct, but the scientific term for that is "recreational
Current use is typically by adolescents and young adults. We will find
differences between the national figures and the figures of metropolitan centres
like Amsterdam. I expect that you will inquire as to whether there are
differences between cities that have coffee shops and those that do not.
Amsterdam is a special case. Many tourists in the Netherlands go only to the
city of Amsterdam. As you have heard, we currently have about 800 coffee shops
in the Netherlands. Almost 300 of those are located in the City of Amsterdam. Of
these 300, 150 are in the inner city of Amsterdam. If you visit the city of
Amsterdam and think you understand Dutch drug policy, you are wrong. It is
clearly part of the Dutch situation, but what you find there is the modern
variation of wooden shoes, tulips and cheese. There are loads of coffee shops,
but you will not find many local people there.
Therefore Amsterdam is atypical. Cannabis use is more prevalent in Amsterdam
than in any other city, and certainly more prevalent than in rural areas.
Are these higher figures a consequence of the easy availability of cannabis
through the coffee shops? The answer is both yes and no. It is yes because it is
easy for respectable citizens - people who have finished their education, have
families and may be civil servants - to go into a coffee shop. Use would be more
difficult if coffee shops did not exist. There is some indication that for these
people current use continues a little longer than it does in other parts of the
country, and probably longer than in other comparable situations.
The answer is also no, however, because of the difference between big cities and
rural areas. We find this all over Europe. Actually, the gap is getting smaller
between rural and urban areas in Europe. In countries that used to have very low
rates of drug usage, such as Sweden, Norway and Finland - the Nordic countries -
the figures are getting closer to the average.
Amsterdam is atypical. The figures are higher, but there is apparently not a
simple causal relationship. There is something going on throughout Europe that
is causing behaviour in the countryside to become similar to urban behaviour and
peripheral countries are not so different from the central countries.
My conclusion so far is that in the Netherlands, on a national level, we do not
have precise figures on whether people continue and on whether the number of
current users has increased or decreased over time. I have also concluded that
the vast majority of the Dutch are not trying cannabis.
National school surveys were started in the late 1960s and have been
systematically applied for the last 12 or 13 years. I have to be careful because
in the beginning the samples were not very representative. I will not go into
methodological details, but by analyzing the consequent studies in depth I have
observed that there was a steep increase from the late 1960s until the early
1970s when roughly 20 per cent to 25 per cent of students aged 17 and 18 tried
hashish or marijuana. That figure declined during the late 1970s and then slowly
increased during the 1980s. In the late 1990s, it increased to a higher level
than it was at in the early 1970s. We have kind a wave, therefore. More
recently, it has been declining.
In 1998, of students aged 12 to 18, 8 per cent tried hashish or marijuana
compared with 21 per cent in 1996. The number nearly tripled, but it has now
stabilized at 20 per cent. Current use is actually lower.
A number of studies have made a simple correlation with decriminalization in
1976. From my perspective, as a criminol ogist, that does not make much sense.
As you heard in Mr. Keizer's presentation, there is a big difference between
written law and law in action and the expediency principle plays an important
I will briefly discuss the stages of decriminalization with regard to
availability and will then return to the wave-like development.
Typically, as in most other western countries, the retail market for hashish and
marijuana in the 1960s and early 1970s was what I would call an underground
market. Consumers bought cannabis in a subcultural environment, often left-wing,
which was peace- and love-oriented. You had to know a dealer personally in order
to obtain a supply. There was some street dealing at that time and an
underground market, which has almost entirely disappeared.
The next step, before the official decriminalization in 1976, was the so-called
house dealer. In the large cities such as Amsterdam there were places where the
local authorities allowed a sort of "social worker"to sell small
amounts of hashish and marijuana. After 1976, into the late 1970s and early
1980s, we had the formalization of the criteria mentioned this morning: no
advertisement et cetera.
Before the official decriminalization there was a kind of grey area, which
continued afterward as well. The coffee shops came in and really boomed in the
late 1980s and early 1990s. We had a clear stabilization followed by a decline
in recent years, a drop to about 1,500 from 1,800.
I would define the shift from the first to the second stage as being from the
underground to the house dealer, from many underground selling points. Heroin
addicts would be involved in those days in selling on the street, for example.
There was really a mixture of soft and hard drugs on the street. The situation
became consolidated into a more limited number of formalized sales outlets.
The coffee shops meant a strong increase in availability. This was in the late
1980s and early 1990s. There is now a decrease. Among youth, use increased in
the underground stage. When local authorities get room to regulate the street
market by allowing small outlets, use goes down. With the increase of coffee
shops use went up. With limitation of those numbers usage goes down again. There
is a clear correlation there.
For a scientist, at least, there is a correlation that makes sense. It is not a
simple, spurious correlation. It is a policy measurable in real life. It is not
only written; it is law in action.
Is there a causal relationship? The problem now is that we find developments in
the U.S. that are not strictly parallel, but almost parallel. I do not have to
explain here that the U.S. has a different cannabis policy. There is the same
policy in Germany and the U.K. As far as French figures are available, France
does not have a shorter tradition.
The conclusion here has to be that there is no clear-cut relationship between
criminalization and decriminalization and the level of cannabis use. This is, in
a way, disappointing for policy-makers. We examine numbers. We do not, and I did
not in my paper, analyze such factors as quality of life and more specific
patterns of use.
One pattern is that the waves are almost parallel. Are the figures higher or
lower than in other countries? Here again there is not a simple answer. The
Dutch figures are substantially lower and have been lower during the past 25
years than the American figures. They are clearly much lower. That has been
interpreted in not only political publications but also in scholarly
publications as proof that repression works worse than liberalization, in a
manner of speaking, with the Americans being the repressive approach and the
Dutch being the liberal approach.
The simple counter-argument is here. The Swedish figures always remained lower
than the Dutch - as the European example of repression. That analysis is clearly
too simple. The Dutch figures are very similar to those of the U.K., France,
West Germany - the former East Germany has a different history - Denmark and
Spain. They are lower than in the Nordic countries, but so are the German and
British figures. Again, we have a kind of in-between position with regard to
Another issue I addressed and I would like to point out shortly is problem use
and treatment. We have to realize that these monitoring systems usually focus on
the general population and students and not on problem groups. A number of
studies have shown that current cannabis use is certainly higher among kids who
do not attend school, such as truants and homeless youth. It would be too simple
to say that we do not have a population of kids at risk that smokes a lot of
pot. That is the number one conclusion.
With regard to treatment, it is not easy to present figures on outpatient or
in-patient treatment. I would not want to go into the definition of cannabis
addiction. There is an ongoing debate on that subject. A simple fact is that
those in treatment in the Netherlands for cannabis generally have problems with
other drugs. There is hardly anyone in treatment for cannabis who is not using
or has not used cocaine, ecstasy, and, in most cases, alcohol as well.
To give you a rough estimate, when you consider our number of current users of
cannabis, 20 per 1,000 are in outpatient treatment. That is not in the
population, but 20 per 1,000 current users. One per 1,000 is in in-patient
treatment, let us say in a clinic, and 1 per 1,000 is admitted to a general
hospital usually for a short period of time.
Senator Banks: That is 1 per 1,000 users.
Dr. Korf: That is of current users. I could also give you absolute
numbers, but that would not make sense. I would have to explain how big the
country is and other matters. That is just to give you an idea.
Cannabis, as in almost every country, is illicit drug number one in the
Netherlands. There was the figure of 15.6 per cent of the Dutch population of 12
years and older, according to the most recent national prevalence study, who
have tried cannabis. For all other illicit drugs, the figure is 4 per cent.
One-half per cent of the Dutch population is currently using a hard drug. In
most cases, that drug is cocaine and/or ecstasy.
There has been some increase in that area. We should not forget, when we study
this kind of drug in general society by going into a household with a computer
or making a phone call or sending a questionnaire, we do not reach the most
problematic group. You will find that problem in any monitoring system. That is
why special studies are needed.
A general population survey shows the common use of illicit drugs. It clearly
shows that the vast majority of cannabis users are not even trying an illicit
drug, indicating, as Mr. Keizer said, no support for the stepping stone theory,
or the cannabis as a gateway drug theory. In causal modelling, using more
advanced statistical techniques, tobacco seems to be a better predictor for
cannabis use and alcohol use. For problem use, something else is happening. The
personal situation appears to be a good predictor of problem drug use.
The vast majority of cannabis users do not try nor access cocaine or heroin. Our
studies have learned also that problem drug users, almost from the start of
their drug "career," if you will permit me to use that concept, are
different in terms of family problems and different in terms of levels of
education. They are already a kind of separate group.
Problem drug users who start, in many cases, with marijuana are not proof that
marijuana or hashish is the cause of their drug problem. Putting the Dutch
situation into a European context of 15 member states - though it is not with
every indicatorthat we can compare all these countries - the EU has1.5 million
problem drug users. We must be aware that every country has its own definition.
We were not able to harmonize that problem use.
There is agreement that the classical traditional heroin addict is included.
Increasingly, the cocaine crack user is included.
That means that 4 per 1,000 citizens in the EU are defined as problem drug
users. Again, this is not a Dutch study, but a European independent study. The
Dutch rank at the 11th position of the 13 countries, which is clearly far from
the top. That is surprising because the Netherlands is the most densely
populated country within the EU. As I mentioned before, drug use tends to be
higher in rural areas than in urban areas. These differences are decreasing, but
it is still a fact. You would expect, with the Dutch demographics, that it would
Of all new AIDS cases within the EU, over one-third,38 per cent to be precise,
are IV drug users. In the Netherlands, there are only 11 per cent. The number of
IV drug users with AIDS in the EU is 9 per 1 million citizens. In the
Netherlands, itis 1 per 1 million. Clearly then, the indicators of problem use,
according to European studies by the official European monitor ing centre, do
indicate that problem drug use in the Netherlands is either at the middle or at
a lower position.
Most probably cannabis use among youth in the Netherlands has evolved in two
waves with the first peek around 1970, a low during the 1970s and the early
1980s, and second peek in the mid-1980s. It has been going down more recently.
There is a striking parallel with the decriminalization process and the arrival
and stabilization of the coffee shop system. However, apparently there is not a
simple causal relationship. Why not? It is because similar developments were
perceived in other European countries.
In conclusion, most cannabis use in the Netherlands is experimental and
recreational. The vast majority quit after a short time. Only a small proportion
of current cannabis users are in treatment. The vast majority of cannabis users
have not tried hard drugs. With regard to what is defined as problematic use of
opiates and other hard drugs and drug related health problems, the Netherlands
rank relatively low within the European Union.
The Chairman: Thank you Dr. Korf.
Senator Banks: You are a relatively recent criminologist - I gather that
came after your other disciplines.
Would you please comment to us on the fact that cannabis, heroin and cocaine
were not illegal until relatively recent history. In the early parts of this
century in this part of the world, they were not legally proscribed even if they
were morally disap proved. It seems to fit with your saying said that as soon as
we criminalize drugs, use goes up. Does that fit with the view that you now
have, given that you have studied this from a criminological standpoint as well
as a sociological one?
Dr. Korf: In the Netherlands, heroin and cocaine have been illegal, not
for long in human history, but for almost one century. Due to the colonial
history of the Dutch, the Dutch were already in the opium trade. There was a
heroin factory not far from Amsterdam and coke was grown in Indonesia. That
explains why the Netherlands had its Opium Act at a relatively early stage.
If there is an increase in use after criminalization of a drug is not easy to
answer definitively. There was certainly not a drug problem in the Netherlands
in those days. Frankly, most of the heroin and cocaine produced in the
Netherlands was exported to the United States, legally, for a long period of
time. The users of both heroin and cocaine were middle-class people.
The answer is not whether there is more or less use. However, clearly the type
of people using drugs changed greatly after criminalization. For the first
decade, nothing happened in the Netherlands. The most important thing that
happened was that the industry was, after a number of years, put under pressure,
particularly by the United States, for legal production. Routes were found for a
couple of decades to avoid that. The increase in illicit drug use started, as I
said, in the 1960s. Opium use had already been illegal for 40 years. Cocaine use
had been illegal for 35 years. Hashish had been illegal for a bit shorter time.
In that sense it was there was no link at all. There was no drug problem.
The drug problem was not a reason to be involved in an international convention.
Marijuana was not included in the Dutch Opium Act because we had a marijuana
problem. From that perspective, there was just no drug problem, and it took a
long time, not based on human history, but a couple of decades before a drug
problem evolved after criminalization.
Senator Banks: On another subject, you said there was a transitional
period during which people called house dealers were authorized in some way to
purvey drugs. Did they give way to the coffee shops? Have they been succeeded by
the coffee shops? Do they exist any more, the house dealers?
Dr. Korf: The house dealer was intended as a kind of social worker in
certain youth centres, although you would not find this spelled out so precisely
in the legal documents. Do not misunderstand youth centres. That was not for 12-
and13-year-olds, but, say, from 17 to the early 30s. The coffee shops were never
intended. They were just unavoidable. In the 1970s, there was more the idea of
the "make-able" society, et cetera. The coffee shops filled in the
gap. After that, the house dealers were tolerated and the criteria were set,
with again no advertisement, et cetera, as mentioned by Mr. Keizer. Then the
coffee shops filled in through jurisprudence. You have another word for that,
but I do know the precise American term. The coffee shops were then allowed,
althoug it was never intended to have coffee shops. Actually, no one predicted
that they would be the next step.
Senator Banks: Once they were there, did the house dealers go away?
Dr. Korf: Slowly. I am not aware of the existence any house dealers
today. In all the well-known places, they all disappeared.
Senator Banks: I will ask this question of our witness this afternoon,
but I will ask you as well for your perspective as a criminologist: There is a
certain sophistry, or I suppose one could say cynicism, that obtains when we
have "wink, wink, nudge, nudge," as it is called in some places.
"Yes, that is against the law, but we will not do anything about it."
I understand the practicality of it. If you were to take a huge step back and be
completely objective about it, it does not make sense, as was already said
earlier. What do you think is keeping legislators who are doing this dance of
sophistry from saying, "Yes, we have this law in place, but we will not
enforce the law?" What is keeping that dichotomy in place?
Dr. Korf: I define drug offences as victimless crimes. That sounds silly
and naive because it is clear that drugs make victims. You can abuse them, and
the whole illegal drug economy clearly makes victims. However, they are
victimless crimes in the sense that there is really a very substantial
difference from theft, for example. If someone steals something from me, I can
go to the police and tell them something was stolen, I want to report it, and I
hope that the police will catch the offender. In the case of drugs, it is not
very easy. We talk about drug lords, as far as they exist, but the user and the
dealer are often friends. You cannot go to the police and say, "He sold me
stuff of poor quality." You might do that, but here also the user is a
violator, so it is not simple.
Senator Banks: You could do that here, but only once.
Dr. Korf: Exactly. The offender and the victim are not to be separated.
All these kinds of crimes, including prostitution and abortion, have this basic
problem. Who is the victim? Who is the offender?
Frankly, my strong impression might not be politically correct but, as a
scientist, I do not have to be. There is a dilemma. Today, I cannot imagine that
the European Union states would go for an international treaty focusing on a
legal control, actually through penal law, of drugs. Probably one of the
silliest mistakes made in the past century was to think that you could regulate
that by a law, so rough and so simple. That dilemma has dominated in the
Netherlands, in the parliamentary debates, for example, when it was decided to
decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
There were debates on legalization, but the international treaties just do not
allow it. In my perspective, you would not decide to sign such a treaty today.
This was done in the early 1960s, and in 1960 we did not have a problem. There
is the basic dilemma. This is not only in my experience. I did not do systematic
research in that field, but to some extent, by living in and, to some extent,
representing the Netherlands - since I live and teach in Amsterdam - I must have
an opinion on coffee shops, particularly when I meet foreign colleagues, and
particularly policemen and women. I do not see much difference, in my
experience, between policemen and women in the city where I live and work
compared to British cities or German or French cities. The young ones grew up
where cannabis and marijuana were around the schools. They grew up in a
situation where there are serious problems in their cities, and in general many
policemen and women, including prosecutors and judges, have a huge dilemma with
that. Why would we go after these kids? That is the question they raise all the
time. As was said earlier this morning, at least at the local level, the
practical workers struggle with this problem. There are some international
treaties and there is local practice, and in that local practice they have to
To go back to your question, the authorities know it is illegal, but they do not
see a good reason to enforce it at a user level, be it legal or illegal for the
The Chairman: Mr. Korf, I want to go back to my question to the previous
witnesses on the regionalization or localization of the policy.
You have looked at the various surveys. How do they translate when comparing
regions to regions or councils to councils? In 81 per cent of the councils,
there are no coffee shops?
Dr. Korf: Roughly 400 of the 500 communities have no coffee shops, and
most of them have decided to have no coffee shops, which is necessary for the
legal procedure. They need a document. One can close down a coffee shop, or one
can ask a judge to intervene when the official criteria are not met, when the
shop is selling hard drugs, et cetera. When you have a zero policy, which is no
coffee shops, you can close it down and have legal support for that. That is the
The Chairman: What about with respect to prevalence?
Dr. Korf: The first complication is here. You cannot simply compare
because the smaller the community, the greater the chance that it does not allow
coffee shops. Rates of use are always lower at the rural level than at the urban
level, although they are getting close.
Allow me to give you an example of the study we did about a year ago. Until this
summer, we had three comparable cities in terms of numbers, about 100
inhabitants, in the Netherlands. One had 15 coffee shops, one had five and one
had only one. The informal standard is that one coffee shop is needed for30,000
inhabitants to cover the market. One city deliberately decided to allow one
coffee shop. I will not go into the political details because I would get into
the different political parties we have in the Netherlands, but that is the
What happens in a situation when there is only one coffee shop? It was mentioned
before that many people do not buy in coffee shops, which is what we find in
surveys. The problem then is that in most cases they buy from friends. Where do
these friends buy it? My hypothesis is they buy in coffee shops as well. There
is not much dealing on the street or in schools, in general. However, when there
is no coffee shop, people continue an informal market that exists in all the
neighbouring countries. They just go to France, including selling at school. One
hardly find a difference in prevalence rates. As far as I can follow it up, one
does not find differences. The main difference is the regulation. When there is
no coffee shop, there is an alternative. You go to friends. Friends sell it, and
in the Netherlands, the friends can buy it in the coffee shop, if not in their
own village, within 40 kilometres, which for the Netherlands is quite a
distance. You will always find at least one coffee shop. You can do that by
bike. The country is covered.
The Chairman: From that study that you mentioned, comparing three
available locations, there is no difference.
Dr. Korf: There is no difference in level of control in prevalence rates.
The difference you will find is in the distribution, not in the price, and in
that sense, in the controllability. There is no place, then, for secondary
prevention, which the coffee shops allow, but then we go into more detail.
With respect to your question about whether there is a difference in use between
places with and without coffee shops, we could not find any so far in the
The Chairman: In the three communities, if I go to the problematic use of
marijuana by youth, which you referred to, that is a concern for us as well. In
those three communities, was the problematic use of marijuana by the adolescent
age group comparable among the three communities? In terms of preva lence, who
are the users?
Dr. Korf: I would not dare to say because that part was not really
qualitative. What was striking is that more young kids were involved in informal
dealings, so to speak. They would sell small amounts on the streets, et cetera,
or go to friends. That was still the house dealer, but then there is a home
dealer, small locations.
Returning to your question about whether there is more problem use, as a
scientist I could not answer that question. My general impression from
travelling through Europe is that the main difference within the Netherlands,
when comparing having coffee shops to not having them, is that the situation is
more visible in the Netherlands.
The Chairman: You want that.
Dr. Korf: Yes, and also to define it as a problem situation and say that
we have to do something here. You must realize, as a minor point, that one is
only allowed to be in a coffee shop at the age of 18 or older. Therefore, the
young ones are not supposed to be in the coffee shop.
The Chairman: I am trying to understand, because the problematic use of
marijuana and the prevalence in the schools among youth aged 12 to 18 is huge in
your country, in our country and everywhere. We are trying to understand why. Is
it a problem? Is it part of the problem of dropouts and delinquency? Does the
use of marijuana play a role in those problems?
Dr. Korf: It clearly plays a role, apart from what is cause and what is
consequence. Truancy is strongly correlated with alcohol consumption, cannabis
use and probably other drugs. It is correlated with certain types of
criminality, in particular petty offences. From the studies we did - again only
statistically so far - but statistically there is not a causal relationship when
one is trying to predict. It is not the cannabis that predicts the crime; it is
the other way around, but we cannot ignore the fact that there are cannabis
users who frequently commit petty offences. There is a simple correlation, but
when one tries to predict it - I do not know if that makes sense, regression
analysis, then we go into detail - it appears to be the other way around. Those
who tend to be criminal have a higher risk of using cannabis than non-criminal
The Chairman: My question was more focused on the kid who is 13 and is
using marijuana. Is he more likely to drop out of school, or does it not matter,
since he will anyway because of family problems or other problems?
Dr. Korf: We find 13 an early age in the Netherlands for starting to
smoke marijuana, and would certainly, in general, define it as a risk factor.
For smoking marijuana at 13, a general action would be a meeting at the school
with the parents, maybe not because of one joint but certainly if there is
regular use at that age. We are talking about 7th and 8th graders. There will be
contact with some prevention department for counselling. That is the first
initiative at the age of 13.
Senator Banks: I will ask our other witness this afternoon to comment on
this proposition, too: Assume that the rationale argument for decriminalization
or failure to prosecute is harm reduction, not only to the user but to society.
It has been argued that the greatest harm is not done by marijuana users but by
users of cocaine, and even more so by users of heroin, who usually must commit
crime to support their habits. If the principle of harm reduction is to be
applied, should it not be applied to the area where the greatest harm is done,
rather than to the area where the least harm is done, which everyone agrees is
among marijuana users?
Dr. Korf: That is a nice question. Let me try to separate them. First,
the Dutch did not use "harm reduction," but, in those days,
"labeling" or "secondary deviance." They wanted to avoid
labelling or stigmatizing the person. Harm reduction is more related to health
as a concept.
The use of any illicit drug is not illegal in the Netherlands. Let me stress
that again. The difference is that, for cannabis, possession of 30 grams or less
is defined as a petty offence. That is not the case for the other drugs, but
possession of small amounts will not be prosecuted. Possession of a half-gram of
heroin for personal use as an addict would not result in a prison sentence. That
is the general guideline from the prosecution.
Senator Banks: In the Netherlands, the principle that small-amount
possession will not attract a charge does go evenly across the board for all
Dr. Korf: Yes. The difference with cannabis is that the principle has
been made into an official general policy. There are general guidelines covering
the others. Your point is correct. The construction of the heroin and cocaine
problem is a bit more complex.
It is a rather general assumption that crimes committed by heroin addicts are
consequences of their addiction. I do not believe that is true. Problem drug
users are not like any random selection of drug users. At an early stage there
are differences. In general, problem drug users come from problem families and
have problems at school before beginning to use drugs. In many cases, the
tendency towards crime existed before the drug use.
That is not the final answer to your question. Yes, I would agree. To reduce
harm, it would be logical to decriminalize the possession of the other drugs as
well. My personal opinion is that the legal control of drugs has done more harm
than good. We share that common problem on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. We
must live with that dilemma.
The Chairman: You, like Mr. Keizer, would probably support a system
whereby soft drugs would be regulated like alcohol and tobacco. In your opinion,
what would be the sociological and criminological consequence of a new policy
like that? I refer to regulating all soft drugs: alcohol, tobacco and cannabis
Dr. Korf: I find the question difficult to answer.
The Chairman: You can submit a written answer if you want.
Dr. Korf: I will try to answer. The major complication here is our
history of criminalizing these actions, so we can hardly imagine how things
would be different without that. We do know that opium use was different from
today's heroin use. Criminaliz ation may have contributed to the spread of
heroin use and its overtaking of opium use.
The cannabis issue is the most simple one. In that sense, I do think one can
learn, for better or worse, quite a lot from the Netherlands without saying ours
is the best solution. One can simply observe the behaviour of tourists in coffee
shops. On a first visit, a tourist will do things secretly, although there is no
need. He may roll his joint under the table, for instance, and he is concerned
about the size of the joint.
Simply regulating the drug means it can be enjoyed but a user should not overdo
it. From that example, one sociological consequence might be the evolving of
more opportunities for informal controls which are less counterproductive and
less harmful than today's secret behaviour.
Do not assume there will be no other problems, but be prepared to regulate those
problems as they arise. I doubt that prices would drop tremendously. One of the
first steps - this is neither criminological nor sociological - is taxation.
There will be quality control and there will be warnings. Cigarettes are
labelled for nicotine and tar amounts. Products will become standardized. The
biggest challenge will be distribution. I do not agree with a supermarket
scenario regarding psychotropic substances, and certainly not in Europe.
In the United States, it may be different. In the United States, drug stores
already make available many drugs that are not easily available in Europe. I
would assume special stores would exist that would include all kinds of
information on how these drugs work.
We will then also set more rules to determine where the answer is yes and where
no. With the coffee shop system, you are not supposed to smoke marijuana in the
street. The coffee shops in the tourist area in Amsterdam have signs that
indicate people are not to smoke outside. It seems that there is total freedom,
from the heavy smoker's perspective, but actually it has created new,
self-regulation. It would be the same in the case of other drugs. Under the
restriction, I agree fully on that.
There should not be one general rule for all illicit drugs. We would never have
one category for all illicit drugs. The difference between heroin and marijuana
is huge, and those harder drugs should never be defined in the same category as
marijuana. LSD and heroin must be dealt with differently than the way in which
we deal with marijuana. Regulations would be more strict.
The Chairman: Thank you for your testimony, Dr. Korf. The researchers may
have other questions, so I will express those to you in writing. We will post
the questions and the answers on the Web site of the committee.
Continuing with this meeting of the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs,
we will now hear from our witness, Mr. Steven Van Hoogstraten. Since February of
1999, Mr. Van Hoogstraten has served with the Ministry of Justice as the
Director of International Criminal Law Affairs and Drugs Policy. He also holds
the position of Deputy Director General of International Affairs.
Mr. Van Hoogstraten worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1976 to 1972
during which time he served as the permanent representative to the European
Commission. He worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from 1982 to
1989 and for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports from 1989 to 1989.
During that posting, he was responsible for public health policy and handled
food safety and alcohol issues. He studied European and international law at
Groningen University and now resides in The Hague.
Your biography provides an interesting bit of information. You served as
President of the Netherlands Royal Cricket Council from 1986 to 1997. One
important thing I wanted to mention is that while you served in this capacity,
you were frequently in contact with this sport's officials in Great Britain.
We are honoured by your interest in this work of this committee. Welcome.
Mr. Steven Van Hoogstraten, Director of International Criminal Law Affairs
and Drug Policy, The Netherlands: Thank you for inviting me here. It is a
great pleasure for me to present my observations regarding the Ministry of
Justice to this forum.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to present my observations under a number of
headings. I would like to introduce a subject, notably from the justice angle,
which means I will shed some light on aspects of criminality. I would also like
to explain the efforts of law enforcement in the Netherlands. I will then speak
about these guidelines for the public prosecutor.
In terms of the main part of my menu, I would like to visit a number of elements
related to the coffee shop policy, including the paradoxes and the question
marks that we may have. I will finish with a number of conclusions.
Perhaps I can start by trying to answer a question that Senator Banks asked
about how it is possible to have a policy in law enforced in a different way. I
should add to the response that you have already had that, in political terms,
our country is governed by coalition governments. If a new policy is devised
which is against the views of a part of our Parliament, there is a technique
whereby we leave the law as it stands but we define the policy in terms of
enforcement. We have done this for euthanasia, abortion and the soft drugs. I
believe that explains the "why" in keeping the law as it stands. One
never knows if a new policy will be successful or not. Thus, we are not changing
the law but introducing a new system which one hopes will lead to new
legislation later on.
On the point of the soft drug policy, there was the extra complication of
international treaties which tied our hands on the point of the text of the law,
whereas the feeling of society was that we should make a better step in terms of
Soft on soft drugs, hard on hard drugs and tough on organized crime is how I
would like to name my outline of the justice approach to our national drug
policy today. The justice side of the drug problem has basically two windows:
One is the regulation of our particular approach and the other is the constant
attempt to deal with organized drug criminality.
By way of an introductory sketch, I have to state that, unfortunately, my
country has become a drugs market of sizable proportions, which means that the
fight against drug trafficking is high on the agenda of justice and of the
police. This past October, the police detected in the province of Limburg, which
is close to the German border, raw materials in an amount of 17,000 litres, of a
sufficient size to produce over 300 million ecstasy tablets. These chemicals
came from China and entered the country through the Port of Rotterdam in a
container. The same story was true for the Amsterdam region, where 4,000 litres
of this BMK substance, or benzylmethylketone, were confiscated. Unfortunately,
ecstasy is being produced in and distributed from the Netherlands at a
disconcerting pace. The number of pills seized abroad equals the size of our
population: 60 million in the year 2000.
Ecstasy is synonymous with large financial benefits for producers and traders.
In fact, the trade in cannabis is big business as well. Dutch dealers make great
sums of money from the production of marijuana, whether imported or grown within
our national borders. To give you an example, a money changer who was
investigated by the police said that one particular soft drugs dealer could
change as much as 70 million guilders per year, mostly back from British pounds
or Scandinavian currencies. Our public prosecutor has tried to retrieve a
similar amount back from a Dutch drugs trader in the context of our policy of
confiscation of illegally acquired assets. The case is not finished yet, but the
courts have awarded a slightly lower figure, which is still in the tens of
Drugs are big business, soft and hard drugs alike. The illegal production of
cannabis has become profitable for criminals and for marginal groups which,
socially, are at the lower end of society. The police are trying to clamp down
whenever they know of one, but the nurseries return at a very high speed,
notably with a view to the export of cannabis. Some 8,000 deutschemarks for a
kilo of weed is an attractive price, especially if you have no other occupation,
as many of these people do not. Thus, they grow cannabis in large quantities,
and it is a constant fight for the police.
Mr. Chairman, as stated in our submission, 70 per cent of the annual reported
cases of investigated organized crime is related to narcotics. The drug trade is
everywhere. It is also behind the cases of money laundering and the trade in
firearms. Cannabis is just as much a part of that trade as is heroin, cocaine,
ecstasy or amphetamines. That gives us a great deal of concern. It shows that
even if you are lenient on the side of the consumers, you can certainly not be
lenient on the side of fighting crime.
Our national law fits within the framework of international treaties. Based on
the general point of departure of Dutch policy, I would, of course, need to
discuss how we have made the distinction in our regulation and in actual
practice with regard to drugs which, in our opinion, have a different risk from
others. I will not go into that since you have already heard from Mr. Keizer and
Dr. Korf, but I may return to elements of it later on.
I had thought of making a statement about ecstasy, but I think I will leave that
aside since the interest of your committee is on cannabis. I think it is
important for you to know that, from the point of view of law enforcement,
ecstasy is even higher on the agenda than cannabis. We have made large
investments through a decision of the government to crack down on the illegal
production of ecstasy and the distribution to consumers in the Netherlands and
elsewhere in Europe, the U.S. or Canada.
Drug-related penalties in the Netherlands are rather strict. Drug dealers are
subject to a prison sentence of 12 years. When this takes place on an organized
scale in the context of a criminal organization, a third is added. Thus, the
sentence would be up to 16 years. Penalties for soft drugs are lower. There is a
maximum of four years for import and export, but with the same possibility of an
increase due to organized elements.
Drug law enforcement is part of the core business of the police and of the
public prosecution department. Tackling drug criminality is a high priority for
these organizations, in addition, for instance, to the smuggling of human
beings, financial fraud and offences in the sphere of indecency.
Our policy is based on the work of our 26 police regions. We have no national
drug squads, for instance, apart from the unit for synthetic drugs, which is
rather the exception to the rule, as well as our customs and fiscal
investigators. In fact, I would like to emphasize three major concerns: one is
the production and import of cannabis; the second is the importation of cocaine;
the third is the production and distribution of ecstasy from the Netherlands.
Supply reduction must be a constant reminder to drug traders that they live in a
risky environment, that they may be caught and that they may be led before the
judiciary. Cooperation with third countries is an important tool for law
enforcement, even though cooperation with, for instance, the United States or
other countries in Europe is sometimes overshadowed by a discussion of the
techniques of investigation which can or cannot be used. The Netherlands is not
enthusiastic about the use of civilian infiltrators, persons who do not come
from the police sector.
Unfortunately, there are so many drug cases that there is a danger of overload
in that area. Some courts have said that they spend more than 50 per cent of
their time on drugs. The public prosecution department has calculated that, on
average,25 per cent of its capacity and of the investigation capacity of the
police must be invested in drug cases. The abundance of cases, on the one hand,
and occasionally the immensely complicated character of large drug cases on the
other causes the police and the courts to have their hands full. The complicated
cases have a tendency to drive out other cases, which means that the courts
still face backlogs.
In the Netherlands, in 1999, over 8,500 court decisions were given with respect
to a variety of drug offences. When you realize that the Dutch judicial system
produces over 125,000 decisions annually, you can see that drug cases make up 7
per cent of that. Most of the convictions for drug offences concern hard drugs;
that is, over 5,000. The others, nearly 3,500, are related to cannabis.
In 90 per cent of these court decisions, that is nearly 8,000, a penalty was
imposed. The penalty imposition pattern for hard drug offences and other types
of drug offences is slightly different. In most of the decisions regarding drug
offences with an unacceptable risk, thus the hard drugs, there was a form of
imprisonment. That figure is 65 per cent. In the case of cannabis, only 15 per
cent of the cases led to imprisonment. In other cases we have task penalties or
community sentences that were imposed in the 40 per cent range, along with other
penalties such as fines.
Maximum prison sentences in the Netherlands consist of a maximum of 4 years for
soft drugs and 12 years for hard drugs. These maximum sentences can be increased
by one third. For example, in a well-publicized criminal case, a former Surinam
military leader was sentenced to a prison term of 16 years for trade in cocaine
and for participation in a criminal organization. On appeal, due to problems
with the evidence, the sentence was reduced by the higher courts to 12 years.
However, the Supreme Court upheld the original decision.
Mr. Chairman, I provided your committee with a document that shows the basic
elements of our law enforcement policy. You will see in this document the
figures I have mentioned. Over the past decade, the capacity of our prisons has
doubled from 6,000 to over 12,500 cells. These are individual cells, and the
necessary expansion of cells is due to longer prison sentences imposed for
serious violent crimes and for criminal offences under the Opium Act for
organized drug trafficking. It is estimated that at least10 per cent of the
prison population is incarcerated as a result of drug trafficking. A far larger
percentage, around 50 per cent, is sentenced for committing drug-related
offences to pay for their habit. Although there are special reception facilities
within penal institutions for addicted prisoners, addiction during detention
continues to be a complicated and aggravating factor, especially where it
concerns a large number of prisoners. In effect, the drug users contaminate the
non-drug users, and the entire prison population is affected. All in all, it is
clear that drugs, drug crime and addiction have a colossal impact on the entire
justice system in my country.
Having said that, I would like to turn to the particular subject of the coffee
shops and start to explain in more detail the guidelines for public prosecution.
It will be clear to honourable senators that the prohibition in the law is as it
is in other countries. We have all taken that from international conventions.
However, the way in which we implement it is by defining the rules under which
the prosecution is taking place. The public prosecutors, who are organized
regionally with a central administration in The Hague, make guidelines for
prosecution which are subsequently approved by the Minister of Justice and then
publicized in the official journal and on the Internet.
The policy for the coffee shops and cannabis, or soft drugs policy, is laid down
in these guidelines. That was done because it was handy to do so, and because it
would not lead us down the path of having to change the legislation that should
still be in keeping with our international obligations. In the beginning, that
was seen as temporary policy while waiting for further developments at the
international level, but the further develop ments have not yet come.
We are still there with a policy which is a sort of quasi-legislative policy by
the public prosecutor which lays down the rules for the operation of a coffee
shop, as was mentioned by Mr. Keizer. There can be no advertisement for the
coffee shop. There can be no youth permitted on the premises. There can be no
hard drugs or alcohol. Only 5 grams per consumer can be sold, and a shop may
only have a stock of 500 grams to work from. All that can be found in the
directives of the public prosecutor.
You will also find in those directives how the public prosecutor deals with the
offences that are found in society, because you will not have the same penalty
for having 30 grams of cannabis as when someone is found with 30 kilograms of
cannabis. You would not have the same penalty for someone with 50 plants as
opposed to a producer who has 50,000 or 300,000 plants.
The public prosecutor has devised a points system whereby they attach a score to
each individual offence that they find. They give a number of points for 30
grams of cannabis that will bring a fine of something like 425 guilders.
In the documents I provided, you will see that if you have 250 kilograms of
cannabis, that would give you a required prison sentence of 16 months. In the
case of a major dealer, in possession of, for instance, 1,600 kilograms, that
would mean a required prison sentence of four years. You can see the range from
zero to four years is built up in stages, and it is linked to a points system.
Also, if the police discover a nursery, as they do quite often, they will look
at the composition of the nursery. They will assess how sophisticated it is,
whether there are professional lamps, the type of irrigation system and
pesticides. They will award points for each of those to make their
determination. They will look at lighting, nutrition, ventilation, heating,
soil, pest control, and so on.
That is all part of the directives of our prosecuting apparatus.
Senator Banks: Are these numbers grossed up? That is to say, would that
four years for 1,600 kilograms become five if a third was added?
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: If there was a claim that this was done in an
organized way, it would be plus one third.
Senator Banks: These are the smaller figures?
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: These are the net figures derived from the four
years. It would be up to the judge to go from there.
Incidentally, we are involved in the start-up of a process of European
harmonization whereby the European Commission has proposed that the minimum
sentence would be five years, so there might be some discussion in the future as
to whether we would have to move from four to five, but it is still early days
to speak about that.
Mr. Chairman, I noted a few points I wanted to share with you on the subject of
coffee shops, starting with the element of drug tourism. You had a question on
that topic this morning. Drug tourism has always been a concern for the Dutch
administration, and in fact it has led to a decrease in the number of grams that
one can buy in a coffee shop from 30 to 5. We thought there would be fewer drug
tourists coming to Holland to take a quantity back to their place of residence.
Research has been done at the request of the Minister of Justice. We found that
instead of decreasing the number of tourists or the turnover in a coffee shop in
a region close to the border, the opposite was true. Drug tourism has increased,
and coffee shops in the border regions have done well in the last years. They
have tripled their turnover. The only thing we found out is that the drug
tourists are not coming from far away. They are close to the border. They hop in
I can give you an example of a city in which we, the Ministry of Justice, have
made a large investment. The city of Venlo, close to the German border, is known
for criminality linked to drugs. According to the key of 30,000 people, the city
has five official coffee shops, but there are 45 unofficial shops that serve the
Germans. These are non-tolerated coffee shops. They are outside the policy. They
are the loose ones. They are places where one cannot buy 5 grams but where one
can buy 50 or 500 grams. That is a point of concern for the Dutch
The policy in itself is fine, and I support my colleagues in saying that this is
the policy of the country. It is the policy that Parliament wants. However, the
side effect of the policy is that it attracts tourists who would like to bring
quantities back to their place of residence and then act as a small coffee shop
themselves. This is true for Venlo.
However, if you take the city of Arnhem, which is slightly more north, the
police have made it an ambition to close down one nursery every day. That
nursery would normally not work for the national market of the Netherlands but
for export to Germany or other countries. That is a problem on the basis of the
European principle of equality. We find it difficult to say "You can only
buy in a coffee shop if you can show you are a resident of our country," as
that would discriminate against other European citizens. However, it is a
discussion, and we are somewhat uneasy with the situation.
At the same time, in politics no one makes a point out of it. It seems to be
even good for the economy in the border regions. There is no outcry at this time
to do something about it. We have said we would like to decrease the number of
drug tourists. We see an increase in these, and we cannot be at ease.
A point that I think should be mentioned as a fact is that the Dutch growers
have lived up to the reputation of Dutch agriculture, and that is to improve
plants, and so on. The THC content of weed grown in Holland is now at 11.3 per
cent, whereas it used to be at 8.5, but the level of imported marijuana is 5 per
cent. You can see that the homegrown stuff is stronger than that imported from
Morocco or Afghanistan, or wherever.
That raises questions as to where you draw the line between a soft drug and a
hard drug. So far, we have no reason to think that the soft drug is no longer a
soft drug, but at least the question can be asked: Where do we draw the line? In
fact, we have heard only very recently from a number of American members of the
House of Representatives, who said they were receiving in the United States
marijuana grown in Canada that was an even stronger variety. They said it was
something like 16 to 20 per cent. That is what they said.
The Chairman: We have already asked witnesses about that. The maximum
potency they have heard of is 15 per cent, with one seizure. There is a lot of
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: The agricultural minds are working, and it becomes a
stronger product. In fact, Dutch weed is a more expensive product in Dutch
coffee shops than the imported weed.
I should say a bit more about this movement of the mayors of 60 cities that Mr.
Keizer spoke of this morning. We have in Holland a sort of halfway house. We
have decriminalized use by the consumer. We have, in fact, decriminalized the
sale of small quantities to the consumer. However, we have kept within the
criminal field any delivery to a coffee shop. That makes criminals happy and it
makes burgomeisters unhappy because they see things are going on that they do
not like. They asked us, "Why do we not have the situation where we can
grow a legal form of cannabis that we can then take to the coffee shops? We can
control the quantities and the quality. We can look at the pesticides, and so
on, and close the door for anything else." This was a movement that started
with 20 burgomeisters and then it moved up to 60.
The minister I work for was very adamant in saying that he did not want to do it
because this would clearly violate not only international treaties but also the
engagements we have taken inside the European Union not to allow the growing of
any form of drug. This would have renewed clashes with our friends from France
and Germany. We have said that we will not do it, not only because of the
international treaties but also because it would be impossible to enforce. We
would need so many personnel to look after that system, to keep away the illegal
drugs in order for the recognized growers to do their work, that we said that we
cannot do it.
This view of the Parliament, which was a majority view, has been negated by the
cabinet of ministers. In fact, at that point in time it was said that we should
invest more in cracking down on illegal nurseries, on illegal importations and
on points of sale that were not the coffee shops, and that investment is now
being transformed by the police into action.
There is an interesting phenomenon on the matter of what the policy is designed
to protect. The 18-year limit was introduced in the policy in order to give
adults an option to make a choice and to sort of protect youth.
At the same time, there is a debate on whether we should not lower the limit in
order to catch those who are most vulnerable to going into other areas of drug
consumption. However, for the moment it is the clear view of my minister and the
government that we should not give a signal that would incite the youth to go
into coffee shops and make the system more open for consumption by minors. There
is an odd element, which many people find difficult to explain, that exactly
those you would like to protect have no access to the coffee shops.
Mr. Chairman, I think I have been speaking for half an hour. I would like to
present you with a few conclusions, then I would be happy to take any questions.
I would summarize my conclusions as follows: One, we do not believe that
criminalizing the use of drugs is a solution. We also do not believe that the
use of soft drugs necessarily leads to the use of hard drugs. The stepping-stone
theory has, as far as we see it, no basis in fact. That is not only the view of
the experts, but of the members of Parliament, as well.
Second, there is a high aspiration level to try to make cannabis a more
controllable drug. We are not yet there as we are stuck between the illegalities
of production on the one hand and the not so illegal drug use on a small scale
on the other hand. We are now waiting to see how other countries develop their
policies. We have to accept that a tolerant policy with respect to cannabis is
also a breeding ground for crime that must be combated.
Third, the chief purpose of my presentation, which certainly did not touch on
certain parts of the drugs to date, was to show you that the subtleties
characterizing the Dutch drug policy are indeed the result of thorough
consideration and discussions that this practice must be able to work within the
Dutch legal order. These policy decisions may solely provide some room for
Fourth, I made a plea, on behalf of the Dutch government, in the last meeting of
the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna earlier this year. We raised the
issue of how a rescheduling of cannabis might be initiated within the UN
context. Naturally, some reactions were dismissive, especially from the U.S. who
said that the idea of soft drugs did not exist. However, we believe that this is
an international dilemma, and cannabis is the illicit drug most widely used
internationally, despite the generally prohibitive provisions regarding
possession of it and also, in some countries, the use of it.
We must, therefore, face the issue of credibility of the public administration,
to which Mr. Keizer referred. The gap between the objective pursuit by the
public administration by means of the existing instruments of law enforcement
and the actual result, namely the practice of use, is widening. We think that
new instruments are indeed necessary. We certainly do not offer a total solution
for this, but an international acknowledgement of this problem would be a step
forward, especially if it came from a country such as Canada.
Fifth, we share a strong and constant fight against organized crime,
irrespective of whether it concerns hard drugs or soft drugs. I have referred to
the comprehensive association action plan, and I also noted the intensification
of the action in relation to the production of cannabis.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I have raised the question of how it can be justified in
a state under the rule of law that a government lays down rules, in fact the
prohibition of the sale of cannabis, and then fails to enforce compliance with
those rules. Moreover, that government helps to find ways to circumvent that
prohibition. We realize that this is a very controversial area where moral
opinions of society at large and the value of legal techniques do not always
concur. However, it is important to make clear that the Dutch policy of
regulated tolerance does have a legal basis. It is not an expression of
indifference, but is the result of a well-considered policy decision. There is a
transparent and controllable system of policy rules with a view to acceptance
and to enforcement.
Senator Banks: TMr. Van Hoogstraten, I will ask you a kind of convoluted
question, which has a Canadian context that I must explain to you. We had a
situation regarding the smuggling of tobacco to avoid taxes here a few years ago
because of our very long and, in some cases, porous border with the United
States. The problem was so widespread and politically charged that the
government retreated from the law. The government could not enforce the law.
This offended a great many people, who have argued from time to time that the
process of legalization of things that were once considered illegal and a social
anathema by the various governments involved, including ours, is simply an
academic rationalization that could correctly be characterized as giving up. It
is akin to the government saying that they cannot regulate this nor stop it, so
they will say that it is no longer against the law. That is an offence against
moral rectitude and common sense.
In your country, as was pointed out earlier, and everyone who argues about these
things knows, you need to oversimplify it. You have legalized, or at least
decriminalized, soft drugs, prostitution and euthanasia. One might legitimately
ask: What is next?
That question is also asked in this country, although we have not yet
decriminalized some aspects of things.The fact is that prostitution in Canada is
not illegal. The government is now, to a degree, in the soft drugs business for
medicinal purposes and experimentation. Government provides liquor. It is in the
gambling business. What is going on here? We are seeking to put criminals out of
business by saying that the state will take over their business.
Do you see, in any sense, that the decriminalization of things is a simple
rationalization of giving up on governing things? Are we heading for Sodom and
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: I have not been long enough in Canada to give you
any certain answer about that, but I could speak for my own country.
Senator Banks: Are you heading to Sodom and Gomorrah?
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: I think not. If you ask the question of me as a
representative of the Netherlands government, and especially of the justice
system, I think not.
I work for a conservative minister, a Liberal minister who in our political
spectre stands to the right of the political spectre. He is seen as a leading
conservative. He is more proud of our legislation about euthanasia than he is
about our legislation about drugs. If we have foreign visitors, they drop their
remarks about the drug policy because they want to know how we deal with elderly
people who are in great pain or great suffering. They want to know how the
mechanism works when we speak about terminating life in a highly dignified way,
because that is the essence of our policy on euthanasia. My minister finds no
difficulty at all in explaining that policy.
There was a long and very difficult debate in Parliament among the various
political groups - some highly moralized, such as the Christian Democrats, and
others more practical, such as the Socialists or Liberals. The majority of
Parliament defined this policy, and we stand by it.
There is no one step, I would say, in the direction of Sodom and Gomorrah; it is
just the answer to a problem of an ageing society where doctors and patients
alike have asked for this measure to be enshrined in law. In fact, the present
composition of the government makes it possible to do so, because when we still
had the Christian Democrats in government, it would have been very difficult
because the way they look at these highly morally intense matters would prohibit
them from taking that type of step. However, that is, perhaps, for a later
With regard to abortion, I think we were perhaps one of the first countries to
legalize it, but it is generally accepted that this is something that should be
available for people rather than withheld from people.
With regard to drugs, I can see your question, but we have always followed the
line of the risk evaluation. If a drug is low in risk, then why mix it up with
other drugs that are high in risk? If the WHO says that cannabis is less harmful
than tobacco and alcohol, why make such a fuss about the use of it? There is no
Sodom and Gomorrah there as well.
I do not know about taking away the law from those who are smugglers. I could
see the logic of that only if the feeling was that what the smugglers did is not
so bad after all, and can be condoned by the representatives of the people.
Senator Banks: It is the worst possible thing of all, the avoidance of
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: So there we are. We live in a densely populated,
highly technocratic modern society that tries to find answers to many of the
very difficult questions with which we are faced. We use a method of government
that is based on coalition forming and not antagonism between two sides of the
house, which leads to solutions as I expressed them. Of course there are
elements that we do not like or that we would like to remedy, or where we should
work harder, but in general, we are quite proud of the policy we follow, and
there is no feeling of negativism as you might think there is.
The Chairman: Mr. Van Hoogstraten, I would like to focus on the question
of drug use in prisons. If your country is anything like ours, a broad market
for all kinds of drugs thrives within the walls of our prisons. Many inmates
entering the prison system are not drug dependant, but have become addicts by
the time they are released.
Your country has instituted a policy broadly based on the fundamental principle
of harm reduction. What steps have you taken to counter the reality of drug use
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: In my opinion, it is difficult to find a solution to
this problem, because prisons are a totally separate environment where a
different set of values and markets apply. Within the walls of these
institutions, prison officials try to set aside drug-free areas, that is a wing
or building where drugs are not present.
Steps are taken to help inmates overcome their addiction. Those inmates who
regularly cause problems are put in mandatory detention. Some people are a
nuisance to society. The government takes charge of them and they undergo
treatment for a period of two years in the hopes that they will rid themselves
of their addiction and their dangerous behaviour.
I think I need more information about what goes on in our prison system. My
colleague at the Ministry of Justice is responsible for our prison system.
The Chairman: Regarding heroin addicts, you run a metha done program in
your prisons. Is that correct?
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: Yes.
The Chairman: You can provide me with a response in writing.
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: I know that supplying methadone to inmates is a real
problem. Disagreements have arisen because prison doctors are averse to the idea
of continuing treatment that has already begun. I will let the other witnesses
who are experts comment on this matter.
The Chairman: I will put the question again in my letter and you can
respond to it in writing.
A number of the briefs submitted to the committee contain a reference to alcohol
served in so-called coffee shops. As a rule, these establishments do not serve
alcohol. However, alcohol is in fact served in a number of other outlets.
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: Only in so-called hash cafes in Amsterdam. According
to the general rules of the public prosecutor, the sale of alcohol is prohibited
in coffee shops because of the danger associated with mixing drugs and alcohol.
The outlet for cannabis sales is the coffee shop.
Approximately one dozen hash cafes still operate in Amster dam. The policy is to
shut down these outlets, but this is easier said than done. As a rule, the 820
coffee shops do not sell alcohol. This practice must cease, but it is difficult
for the public prosecutor to close down these establishments.
The Chairman: I would like to focus on the issue of international
conventions. Through your studies and work, you have been able to evaluate these
treaties and to compare them with your country's policies. Your country's allies
who, since 1976, have not hesitated to question your illegal drug control
policies, have accused you of violating the spirit of these conventions.
From the standpoint of trade and international relations, how have you been
ostracized as a result of your policies?
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: From the standpoint of trade, I do not believe the
Netherlands have been affected. However, in terms of international relations,
the policy has proved to be something of an irritant.
To begin with, our German neighbours argued that there were too many coffee
shops in the border region. The French President claimed that all of his
country's drug problems were caused by the lax policies in the Netherlands, that
is by the excess number of coffee shops in Rotterdam where the residents of
Lille could purchase cocaine and other substances.
This proved to be a key factor in the formulation of our new drug and law
enforcement policy. We felt it was necessary to do whatever we possibly could to
show that we were taking the implementation of our policy seriously. Obviously,
some of the French government's arguments were not very convincing. The
Netherlands cannot be blamed for all of France's domestic problems. France has
its own problems, just as we in the Netherlands have our own.
In the open European Union market where borders are non-existent, those who wish
to enjoy the relative freedom of the Netherlands can do so. We still need to
limit all possibilities in terms of available outlets for heroin or cocaine
sales. In this, the city of Rotterdam has a very important role to play.
The Chairman: I would like to focus on one element of your testimony,
namely the use of drugs, even soft drugs, by young people. Your policy prohibits
young people from entering the coffee shops. However, statistics show that
cannabis use among young people is as widespread, all things being equal, as it
is here in Canada, the United States or other European nations.
How then do we go about reconciling the aim of your policy, which is to limit
the harm caused by the use, or abuse, of drugs, and the behaviour of Dutch
youths, which is certainly no different than that of other youth populations,
given that it is a question of culture? As a number of your colleagues pointed
out in their presentations, this is a cultural, transnational issue, one that
has nothing whatsoever to with a country's domestic policy. The use and
prevalence of a substance is associated with factors that are beyond the scope
of national policies. How do you reconcile the fact that Dutch youths as young
as 12 years of age use drugs with the fact that they are not allowed in coffee
shops, the aim being to control their use of these substances?
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: That is a very pertinent question. In the past, the
age limit for admission to the coffee shops was 16 years. To further limit the
possibilities of obtaining cannabis, it was agreed that minors should be
prohibited from entering such premises. The policy was based on the belief that
the use of soft drugs should be restricted to persons 18 years of age and over.
The same policy was applied to control the use of tobacco, alcohol and cannabis.
It also was applied to casinos.
With respect to alcohol consumption, in the case of beer, the legal drinking age
is 16, while in the case of spirits, it is 18 years. A process has been
initiated to limit tobacco consumption to persons 18 years of age and over. The
age limit is set at 18 years in an effort to safeguard the public's health, even
though we know the youths between the ages of 12 and 18 are using cannabis,
alcohol and tobacco. We are dealing with typical adolescent behaviour.
The Chairman: In light of the pragmatic approach mentioned by my
colleague, when you drafted your policy in 1976, you assumed that there was no
such thing as a drug-free society. However, the same thinking should be applied
to youths or minors, especially when you know that they use these substances.
Mr. Van Hoogstraten: However, the fear of providing an incentive to
cannabis use is greater than the feeling of actually resolving certain problems.
Most politicians believe that the age limit should not be lowered, while still
others are demanding that it be. It is a question of political leanings. Those
who favour greater freedom demand even less looser policies, whereas those who
are concerned about health protection issues are demanding more safeguards for
young people. Others are worried about publicly encouraging the use of these
substances, a move which could spark an outcry from the Americans, the French
and others. Our policy is in place for the time being and we are trying to gauge
how others are dealing with the issue.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Van Hoogstraten. I will be in touch with you
and the researchers will most likely have some questions for you as well. We
will then publish on the committee website the questions and responses.
Before we suspend our proceedings, I wish to remind anyone who is interested in
the committee's work that they can log on to our website at www.parl.gc.ca for
more information about illegal drugs. Posted on this site are the submissions of
all of the witnesses, along with their biographies, any supporting docu
mentation they may have provided us, as well as a listing of over 150 Internet
sites with information on illicit drugs. You can also e-mail the committee at