For too many people – for far, far too many, in fact, but not for any of you readers of this weblog, I would wager – the only fact filed in their brains under “Netherlands” or “Holland” is “it’s that place where you can go smoke weed and it’s legal, man!” And that’s true: you can smoke weed here, and it’s legal, as long as you follow some trifling rules regarding time and place.

But Dutch culture also stems from a rather Calvinist historical background (think “Thou Shalt Not!”), which cannot but give rise to various paradoxes – if you’d rather not call them “hypocrisies” – such as that, while it’s legal to buy hash and marijuana in small amounts, it’s strictly-speaking illegal to supply the stuff in any commercially-meaningful amounts. And the public authorities take a particularly dim view of marijuana “farms” or “plantations.”

Combine all that with Dutch technical ingenuity, and what you can come up with as a result is what (fittingly) the Dutch religious newspaper Nederlands Dagblad is now reporting: Unmanned helicopter tracks down marijuana-cultivation. You can get a good look at what is being discussed here by clicking through on that link and looking at the accompanying photo. (Dutch technical ingenuity, alas, also meant that that picture was protected by the embedding-software so that I was not able to “borrow” it to post it here directly.) It’s a smallish, less than a meter-long, remote-control helicopter, termed by the police that use it a “Cannachopper.” It’s truly a chopper with a difference, namely its “cannasniffer,” an odor-detector that can identify that unique fragrance emitted by smokable weed (even if still-unharvested). It also has an infra-red camera, i.e. heat detector, since that is usually the first give-away that some unconventional agriculture is taking place: cultivating marijuana requires substantial heat. Once alerted by signs of that, the aircraft can usually swoop closer to take a sniff with the “cannasniffer” and so come to a definitive verdict about what is going on.

So far there is only one “Cannachopper” in existence, because the program is still in its experimental stage. But the results from early field-trials, performed out in the somewhat out-of-the-way area of Dutch countryside called the Achterhoek, have been encouraging: a weed plantation in the neighborhood of the town of Doetinchem (warning: this name can really only be pronounced correctly if you are truly Dutch!) was discovered and five people were arrested. So it does seem likely that many more “Cannachoppers” will soon be flying around in the Netherlands, although the police spokesman did also speak of the possible need for it “to be further modified.” What does he have in mind? Making it resemble more its big brother, the AH-64 Apache, with a mini-chain gun and Hellfire missiles for self-defense? In his statement that spokesman also advocated deploying the “Cannachopper” in order to get “more blue on the street,” i.e. to free up police manpower for other things. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to add more blood-red to the street as well.

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