Dutch Ready to Legalize All Drugs?

Who knows? It’s seems more possible than it has been before – even in the Netherlands, with its softer-than-usual policy towards such things as marijuana – after an opinion piece (Save the country, allow drugs), co-written by some local political notables, appeared yesterday in the leading quality newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad. Among the article’s nine co-signatories, the ones that stand out above the rest are probably Dr. Els Borst-Eilers and Ms. Hedy d’Ancona, both former national Ministers of Health, and most definitely Prof. Frits Bolkestein, former Dutch Eurocommissioner, former Minister of Defense, and one of the most influential politicians on the national scene in the last twenty years.

Even here, such a policy suggestion is highly controversial and, in view of the high-profile names attached to it, it immediately provoked comment within the Dutch press – from within the NRC itself, of course, but also in the form of a press-agency treatment available in other newspapers, among which Trouw (Bolkestein wants to legalize all drugs).

Why are we reading about this now? Well, I’ll likely get criticism for sounding like a broken record, but once more: it’s because of the national election we’ll have here in the Netherlands on June 9. Such a significant political event naturally concentrates minds on coming up with solutions to the nation’s problems, which currently include an alleged imperative to find around €30 billion of savings from the national budget. And what do you know: in that NRC opinion piece the co-signatories assert that legalizing drugs completely will lead to cost savings of €31.5 billion. The law-enforcement outlays involved alone (about one-half of that savings amount, they claim) cost each Dutch citizen €924 per year. And naturally, once all drugs can be made and sold, they can all be taxed as well.

Of course, the Netherlands is famous/notorious for its already-existing “soft drugs” policy that makes it easy for people 18 years and up to go to a “coffee shop” and smoke cannabis. It’s this rather unique policy, practiced over some thirty years, that the co-signatories point to for their evidence that drugs legalization won’t just make everyone go crazy – Dutch cannabis use is in fact lower than in most other countries, including the immediate European neighbors where people either have to procure it through illegal means or come pay a visit to our fair land. Still, even that “soft drugs” policy needs reform in the eyes of these politicians, because it effectively sets up such impossible conditions for the coffee shops to be able to get their supplies that virtually every one of them is technically in violation of the law and so is subject to the authorities’ whim as to whether it can even stay in business.

I myself live here, right at “ground zero” for any such proposed drugs legalization. Sorry to say, a military background makes your EuroSavant quite disinclined to take any personal advantage of even the current “soft drugs” policy, much less any full legalization. How would I like to live in a guinea-pig land, so to speak, where such full legalization has taken effect? The politicians’ editorial does address the potential “demand-side” effects, not only pointing comfortingly to that 30 years’ experience with “soft drugs” but also asserting that mind-altering drugs will at least be safer and better-labeled when legal (and that the outright prohibition on any sales to minors would be retained). But I just don’t know.

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