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Articles - International & national drug policy
Written by Erik Fromberg   
Friday, 25 November 1994 00:00




Drs.E.Fromberg, NIAD.

Published in: Questioning prohibition.1994 International report on drugs. International Antiprohibitionist League. Brussels, 1994.

The contradiction

The Dutch are calvinists. Even our catholics are calvinists. As an example: in no other country celibacy is being discussed like it is in the Low Countries, where celibacy is not interpreted as "priests cannot merry" as in the remainder of the catholic world, but is understood in the calvinist way, literally: priests cannot have sexual intercourse.

The Dutch are merchants too: after having won and lost a sizable colonial empire, trade is still our most important source of income. Although the Netherlands are one of the smallest countries in Europe, Rotterdam is the world's largest port and Schiphol, Amsterdam's airport is one of the main ports of entry by air into Europe.

While calvinists have clear, unflexible values and consider their truth the only truth; merchants have to be flexible, cannot be too strict in applying their values, especially when trading with persons from other cultures; they have to be liberal.

The Dutch had to solve the contradiction between being calvinist and being merchant, and solved it by becoming pragmatist: "Whatever your values, I will deal with you, behaving as if I respect you, although I despise you."

When the Dutch became independent of the Spanish around AD 1500 our population existed of catholics and calvinist protestants. Later the protestants even split up in two separate groups: the "hervormden" and the "gereformeerden", creating a third group. In the middle of the last century a fourth group appeared: the religiously neutral liberals, followed by the socialists as a fifth group at the turn of the century, although the last were not represented in the government until after the second world war.

These groups had to live together, while having completely different opinions and values. The recipe for succeeding to do that was to apply pragmatism. We applied the same attitude to our neighbour: "Whatever your values, I will behave as if I respect you, although I despise you."

The result was a situation that centuries later would become known as LAT-relation: Living Apart Together. However, while in the modern sense of LAT, the "Apart" refers to the geografic, and the "Together" to the social dimension, it was applied by the Dutch inversely: the "Apart" referring to the social, and the "Together" to the geografic dimension.

"Verzuiling" was the name we gave to this social organisation. Dutch society was "pillarised", each group forming a pillar. The groups lived peacefully together, but without real contact. A catholic could easily have protestants as neigh-bours on both sides. Their kids could play together, but went to different schools and marriage between them was impossible. "Twee geloven op een kussen, daar slaapt de duivel tussen" or "Where two beliefs rest on one pillow, the devil sleeps in between", as the Dutch saying goes.

The catholic would go to the catholic baker two streets down, while the protestant would go to the protestant baker one street up. Although geographically mixed, they were socially completely separated. Essentially we had five complete societies, five pillars.

It was on the level of their political leaders that the pillars really confronted each other, because they had to compromise on those issues that regarded all of the Dutch. This was done behind closed doors and when they appeared with a compromise it was accepted by everybody. To belong to a pillar implied to obey to the rules set by it's leaders.

This system bred our so called tolerance. We had to be tolerant to the different views and behaviours of the members of the other pillars, but it was tolerance by necessity, not tolerance by principle. It made us create an inclusive society: everybody whatever his norms, had to belong somewhere to the community, because if you rejected a pillar in terms of your behaviour, they could reject yours.

The Second World War shocked this neatly organised Dutch society. The socialists became part of the government, and more important, the society secularised rapidly. The old pillars lost their importance in everyday life. The post-war generation refused to be crammed into these old structures. Catholics and protestants had to merge into Christian Democrats to keep their influence politically.

Although most of the old structures disappeared, the relative tolerance remained and politics continued to be a matter of compromise. The Dutch never had the political structure as the U.K. and the U.S.A.: two parties that never really cooperate and compromise.

So it was as a result of our primary contradiction that our values arose: the (always reluctant) tolerance and the ability to compromise; it was to hide the contradiction.

This historic development is at the root of the development of the Dutch drugpolicy.

The Dutch Drugpolicy until 1960

When the United States at the end of the nineteenth century began to campaign for control of the trade in opium, partly based on it's strong abolitionist tendency, partly for economic reasons 1, the Dutch were immediately involved. Not because of any abolitionist tendency, but for economic reasons, as a major part of our colonial income resulted from the trade in opium in the Dutch East Indies. Our government brought it under a State Monopoly, thus safeguarding it's income. Although this approach was often defended in terms of protection of public health, opiumprices always first reflected the deficit of the Treasurer 2.

This kind of regulation however had nothing to do with the general public in the Netherlands as it only regarded our main colony. As far as drug use occurred in the Netherlands, it was not a public, but a medical concern and the increasing regulation of the medical and pharmaceutical profession, did not regard drugs in another sense than as medicines.

To execute the 1914 International Opium Treaty a first law was proposed to the Parliament, to prohibit the production and trade in raw opium, processed opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine except with government approval, for medical reasons and left the distribution to the pharmacists and physicians competence. This law was accepted by the Parliament in 1919 without roll-call vote. This law, the Opium Law 3 of 1919 was very short, about two A4 papers, did however not prohibit possession for personal use: the user was not criminalised and Cannabis was not mentioned at all.

After the first World War, nobody in war-torn and -tired Europe objected against the United States pressure to increase the prohibition of the use of opium, coca and cannabis, so nobody objected against a paragraph 4 in the Versailles Treaty that ended W.W.I.

All this did not end the Opium Monopoly, which was continued in the Dutch East Indies, being laudably commented upon by the League of Nations as an exemplary approach to curb the trafficking.

In the twenties the pressure increased to extend the existing international treaties that until that moment only regarded the drug crops: opium-poppies and coca-leaves, to their chemical derivatives: morfine, heroin and cocaine and to limit their production. Although both the Germans and the Dutch objected, refined opiates and pure cocaine being important income generating drugs for their respective pharmaceutical industries 5, we complied which resulted in the ratification of the 1925 Geneva Treaty. This necessitated the creation of our Second Opium Law of 1928, which brought all then known "drugs", now including hemp, and their derivatives under the penal code, exept when used in the realm of the medical/scientific profession and disregarded what decades later became known as recreational druguse.

However we have to realise, that in the nineteenth century many europese and american patent medicines contained cannabis, mostly as an alcoholic extract: cannabis-tincture. Although their use was labelled as medical, these potions were freely available: no legal controls existed. This was not abnormal: pharmacists in the western world produced many potions containing psycho-active drugs, although of low potency. The "medical" use of the cocaine containing Vin Mariani and the original Coca Cola as "tonics" are well known examples. At the beginning of the nineteen-twenties the Dutch East Indies production alone of cocaine was sufficient for the estimated medical need at that time, as was the Peruvian and Bolivian production together 6. It is true that cocaine at that time was the only available local anaesthetic, but to a large extent the consumption of cocaine was recreational under medical disguise. The same applies for the use of the opium-derived potions as laudanum and paregoric. The use of these potions diminished slowly as stricter controls were imposed on medicines, not primarily to reduce their use, but as protection for the medical and pharmaceutical professions. This made the use of these types of drugs not as much as disappear, but being medically controlled, as no matter of public concern.

It is important to note that this Opium Law is the only example the Dutch have of a law that was not the result of a consensus of the Dutch population on how to adress a problem for society, but the result of clear pressure of the U.S.A., "the barbarians of the West" with their "extraordinary savage idea of stamping out all people who happen to disagree .... with their social theories" against narcotics, alcohol 7. And indeed their their trying to impose their views on the whole world" actually succeeded by the Single Convention in 1961, which was signed by the Dutch Government, without attracting any attention of the general public.

We obtained this way a law and became part of an international agreement, that would later turn out to seriously threaten the fabric of the dutch society, without any public debate, because at that time "drugs" were simply not an issue.


The use of drugs, especially Cannabis, without official, medical justification, appeared in public in the low countries in the early sixties, not in the least through the actions of the Dutch poet Simon Vinkenoog who became familiar with it in Parisian jazz clubs at the end of the fifties. The use was at first confined to rather elitist circles of young artists and students in Amsterdam and drew only small attention. The Dutch police did at first not react, probably as a result of their experiences with the use of opium among the Chinese in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, that was tolerated. This was possible in a legal sense because of the Dutch legal-system being opportunistic: the public prosecutor is not obliged to prosecute as in legalistic legal-systems, but may decline to prosecute for reasons derived from the public interest. The Dutch apply the penal code not as an end but as an eventually ultimate means of social control. As the opium smoking was confined to the Chinese community and created no concern the public prosecutor and the police saw no reason to interfere, although the use was illegal. This is as well a clear example of the way tolerance is applied: as long as it only concerns on group and it does not harm the others, we stay indifferent.

When smoking "Marihuana" became more known in the early sixties, it drew attention from the medical profession, and a small group of conservative doctors, Booy and Gunning to name a few, started a vehement crusade, which was picked up rather quickly by the public prosecutors, especially as the tabloid papers such as The Telegraaf joined their forces8. This resulted among others in Vinkenoog being convicted to nine months jail for the possession of two-and-half grams of marihuana, in accordance with the 1928 Opium Law in force. This may be considered normal or even lenient in barbarian countries like the U.S.A. and the U.K., but already in the early sixties this sentence was considered draconian by many Dutch, not the least by many judges that were confronted with their sons' friends as accused, and quickly realised that the penalties they gave inflicted more harm than the use of the drug itself. So the practical usefulness of this law and its application was already soon being questioned in academic circles.

When in 1965 the "anti-smoking magician" Robert Jasper Grootveld organised happenings at "het Lieverdje", a statuette symbolising the Amsterdam streetkid funded by the Peter Stuyvesant Company,, where lots of smoke were produced, not only as the result of tobacco smoking, these happenings drew the attention of hundreds. However when the police considered these events being a disturbance of public order and interfered with a massive display of power, the next week thousands gathered and again a confrontation with the police took place. This developed for some weeks into a kind of saturday nights match between the police and a group that manifested itself soon thereafter as the Provo,s. Many of them smoked Cannabis and through the extensive media coverage of these events Cannabis became associated with civil unrest and as such became a public concern.

In the meantime another drug appeared. Since Hofmann's serendipitous discovery of the hallucinogenic properties of lysergic acid diethylamide, many psychiatrists experimented with LSD-25, as it soon became known. Among them was a dutch psychiatrist, Frank van Ree, who wrote his dissertation on the effects of LSD 9. One of his research-subjects turned out to be Simon Vinkenoog and in this way the use of this at that time legal drug spread, slowly but inexorable. Again press coverage of a few accidents made the drug known in wider circles and when the Provo's in Amsterdam jokingly suggested adding a kilogram of LSD to the city's waterworks, the government started to panic. A further suggestion, no more executed, by the Provo's was to feed sugar cubes laced with LSD to the horses that had to draw the Golden Coach on the marriage of the then Princess Beatrix. This increased the panic and LSD was brought under the Opium Law and was thus made illegal in 1971. This act of the Government was however illegal, although only few noticed it, as the Opium Law explicitly stated that a new drug could only be brought under this law when this was a necessity due to the ratification by Parliament of an international treaty. Such a treaty concerning LSD did not exist at that time, but panic dictated and nobody objected to the sudden addition of LSD to the list for prohibited drugs by the Minister of Public Health.

At about the same time opium started to leak out of the Chinese community in Amsterdam and Rotterdam: the inner circle of drug experimenters started to experiment with opium as well, some smoking it but others soon injecting it, resulting in a hundred-odd opium-dependent people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam each around 1970.

Amphetamine use appeared as well, although in a different socio-cultural environment. While the former drugs were mainly used by intellectuals and well educated youth, amfetamine became the drug for the workers youth, spreading mainly from the truckdrivers population, that already used it extensively, although this was not widely recognised at that time.

Amfetamine was at that time not regulated by the Opium Law, but by the Law on Medicine Supply, as it was being used extensively as an anti-appetizer. It became only considered as a drug of abuse at that the end of the sixties and penalties on breaching this law were insignificant, compared with the Opium Law.

Thus at the end of the sixties the Dutch society was confronted with a new phenomenon: non-medical druguse by adolescents and young adults, within a subcultural framework of resistance against mainstream society's institutions and values, which were at that time still those of the pre-war "pillars".

The drugdebate in the sixties

These developments had kindled the intellectual debate about drug use of the early sixties into a public debate, that went on undecided for some years. During that time the number of drug users increased and especially smoking Cannabis became a symbol of the hippie-subculture: it became nationally and internationally a passport that showed one to belong to a group of people that would change the world. Smoking pot became the equivalent of making revolution. The norms regulating Cannabis use were derived from this subculture, and had nothing to do with the mainstream society it opposed.

This was considered a problem for society: something had to be done!

To solve the problem, the government did what it had always done when it encountered a problem that could not be solved according to old fashioned "behind closed doors-method" it constituted an advisory committee in 1968. It was called after it's presiding member the Baan-committee, and it had to reach the necessary consensus. Independently, the Central Organisation for Public Mental Health installed a comparable advisory group with a comparable assignment under presidency of Professor L.Hulsman.


The change of the Opium Law

The first group to publish its report was the Hulsman-group 10, which advised strongly for decriminalisation of the use of drugs, especially Cannabis.

A change of the law was further necessitated by an incident in Rotterdam: a hashish dealer, caught in the possession of a couple of hundred kilograms, was finally acquitted by the High Court of the Netherlands in 1972 11. The prosecutors' witness, the director of the National Forensic Laboratory, could not prove that the hashish seized answered the exact description of hashish given by the Opium Law of 1928. This was not only true for the seized hashish, but for all hashish, so the High Court had to apply a cunning trick and ruled a month later that not the letter of the law but the intention of the law should be applied: what was considered as hashish by the user/trader was meant by the law, not what the law litterally defined as hashish 12.

Happily for the government, the Baan-committee reported in 1972 13. Basically it agreed with the Hulsman group's advice. It proposed Cannabis to be defined as a drug whose use was considered an acceptable risk (as a soft drug) as opposed to all the other drugs, being labelled hard drugs, whose use was at that time considered an unacceptable risk. So they proposed to make a clear-cut distinction between drug users and traffickers, in order to avoid classifying the possession of drugs by users as a serious crime and to allow easy acces to prevention and voluntary interventions. Moreover it was advised to differentiate penalties for trade in soft drugs on one hand and hard drugs on the other.

For that matter, comparable committees had been set up at the same time in Canada (the Le Dain-committee), the U.S.A. (the Shafer committee) and the U.K. (the Wootton-commission), that reached similar conclusions. While however in these countries their reports disappeared in oblivity being negated by their governments, the Dutch Ministerial Council did what it always had done in such circumstances, it accepted it's conclusions 14.

This advice however implied what would soon become a monstrum: the retail sale and use of Cannabis would become de facto legalised, although not de jure, but the wholesale trade remained illegal and object of police activity. This was clearly observed by the Ministerial Council and at first they even voted in majority for complete legalisation of Cannabis. It was only under heavy pressure of the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs that this was not realized. Their argument not to legalise completely was that the Netherlands already had an isolated position with regard to the Isreali-Arab conflict, (it was at the time of the first oil crisis) and we could not afford an isolated position in another subject. So the compromise was made into law, contradiction included.

The possession and/or trade of an amount of Cannabis up to 30 grams was made a misdemeanor and the maximum penalties for trade in Cannabis were made significantly lower than for hard drugs. On the other hand penalties for all other drugs were increased to the level of the other European countries, but the effects on the user level would also be mitigated by a heavily funded care system. This proposal became finally law in 1976, but the governments proposal of the law in 1973 already ended the first phase of our policy regarding Cannabis: the phase of criminalisation by prohibition. As far as the author knows, since 1976 nobody has been prosecuted for simple possession for personal use of Cannabis. It's use was officially recognized as something different from hard drug use in the eyes of the general public, although it was and still is socially rejected by parts of the population.

From this moment dutch drugpolicy got two axes of development one regarding the "soft" Cannabis and one regarding "hard drugs" that were to be all other drugs known.

The development of the Cannabismarket in the seventies

The rather elitist hippie-movement was spreading quickly in the wake of the Beatles' record "Sgt.Pepper". In the Netherlands those Provo's that were politically involved, evolved into the Kabouters and actually won a leading Kabouter, Roel van Duyn, an aldermans seat in Amsterdam. Others merged in the peaceful "alternative" movement. Among them Cannabis use was more rule than exeption and many experimented with LSD. Opium use was in principle acceptable for them although only very few of them became regular users and those were regarded victims. Amphetamine use was strongly resisted: "speed kills", and stayed confined to lower class circles. Hashish dealers had occasionally a bit of cocain, to chase the clouds in their heads on hose few moments that they had to count. Cocain, partly due to being a derivative of a "natural" product, coca leaves, was considered OK, but was confined to the very few.

In 1970, as the Dutch variant of Woodstock, the Kralingen Popfestival was organised in Rotterdam, drawing thousands from the Netherlands. In 1971 thousands of hippies of the whole world gathered in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Youth centres as Fantasio, Paradiso and De Melkweg opened their doors, where the subculture flowered, including the use of hemp. Koos Zwart broadcasted the prices of the different Cannabis varieties in prime radio time, adding information on other drugs provided by the Stichting Drug Informatie.

This foundation, that aimed to provide scientifically sound information on drugs, to counteract the mythology that developed, although with different attitudes, among both the subculture and the general public, voiced it's opinions as well in the Underground paper Hitweek/Aloha, as in the media directed to the general public, riding the waves of public concern about the subculture and it's druguse.

As a result of this development and the imminent change of the Opium Law, in the youth centres mentioned above and increasingly in others in the country too, so called "house dealers" were instituted to fight market adulteration and the sale of hard drugs. A Cannabis dealer that was trusted by the staff of such a centre was allowed to sell hashish, without the police interfering. Certainly, there have been a couple of trials when this practice started, but these resulted in general, although reluctant, tolerance of this system by the authorities. So Cannabis use became further regulated and private retail sale became more or less accepted but out of the Public's sight. Use was accepted within limits, within these youth centres and as a result subcultural norms started to wane and mainstream norms waxed. The general public lost interest, because the use disappeared from sight. No more dark dealers at Dam square hissing "hash, hash", retail was cleanly organized out of sight.

It was finally regulated under a central directive of the Prosecutor General, published in 1980, which was formulated as an implementation of the 1976 Opium Law, which defined the amounts of hard drugs to be considered as for personal use, defined the role of the "house dealer" and directed the public prosecuters only to prosecute retail trade in Cannabis after consultation of the local mayor and chief commissioner (the so called "driehoeksoverleg"15).

The development of a hard drugscene

The introduction of heroin in 1972 changed the whole drugscene. As we have seen, until 1972 drugusers had been mostly middle class and rather well educated people, that were involved with Cannabis and LSD. Only a few of them really went into the use of opium and amfetamine and their existence was at that time not perceived as a problem by the general public. As drugprices were low in the Netherlands 16 the few addicts had no financial troubles: they could afford the drugs, thanks to the social security payments they got. Boredom was their bigger problem. This was changed however when the cheap opium was replaced by heroin.

Heroin had not been available before, although occasionally French addicts brought some of the white powder from the French Connection to swap it for methadone, the drug that as they thought, could make you kick the habit.But in 1972 rather suddenly, the supply of opium dried up and was replaced by the expensive heroin nr. 3, known as brown sugar, from S.E.Asia.

In the "Underground" the use of heroin was generally rejected. It was considered unnatural, chemical and it's action did certainly not fit in the general idea of "enlargement of conscience". It was through Americans in the Vondelpark, that already knew heroin from their home country that it started to spread. First to the opiumusers that were unable to obtain opium, then to some speedfreaks that already injected chemicals and used it to calm down after a speedrun or mixed amfetamine and heroin as a speedball. These people were still tolerated at the fringe of the hippie-movement and although having to steal for their dope etc. tried to belong. But soon thereafter the hippiesubculture started to wane and most hippies turned into respected citizens (although occasionally smoking a joint). This was not possible to the addicts and they had to persist in their lifestyle, that became more and more criminal because of the increasing price of heroin.

The general public became more and more aware of this group, especially as their number increased by another type of addict: the lower class marginals, without any subcultural roots. It was by this type of addict that the total number of addicts increased from a few thousands to an estimated 25.000 in the early eighties. This explosive increase in numbers, combined with their criminal lifestyle, made them a public concern.

The official position was that hard drugusers were victims and had to be cured. The existing network of cure oriented assistance for alcoholics was made available for them, but it quickly turned out that this traditional medico-psychiatric approach did not work. So in the early seventies an alternative, care oriented system was created, that started to use low threshold methadone as it's main instrument in the mid seventies.

Methadone has never been a political issue on the level of the national government. It had already been introduced in the late sixties for the few opium-dependent in the classical medico-psychiatric cure-oriented approach. But in the mid seventies in Amsterdam and Rotterdam extensive low threshold methadone maintenance programs were developed as part of the care oriented assistence to drugaddicts. These programs served as examples for the rest of the country.

The idea was that the illegality of heroine was the main cause of the addicts problems and that replacing it by a legal equivalent would at least mitigate the marginalisation and criminalisation. The Stichting Kontakt Sentra, the main methadone provider in Amsterdam even proposed heroin prescription, but this was vehemently rejected by the national public health authorities. Methadone prescription was OK. If an addict got oral methadone he would not have to steal and cease to be a public hindrance was the opinion.

But although there was an abundance of methadone, the perceived level of criminality did not change. It was generally overlooked that at least half of the heroinaddicts already were following a criminal career before they started to use heroin and although the methadone eased the pressure for them, simply went on in their lifestyle. Others tried to sell their methadone to obtain money for the preferred heroin.

But this did not change the paradigm: dealers were criminals and were the domain of the criminal justice system, the addicts were victims and in the separate domain of the cure/care system. That many addicts were small scale dealers and made them objects of both domains was overlooked.

The problem was that we could not afford to change the paradigm. The Reagan/Bush era was to begin and the war on drug rhetorics strongly influenced our European neighbours. Our Cannabis policy, although not an issue at the national level as the occasionally uneasy consensus on this policy was nation wide, made us vulnerable internationally.

When SKS started in 1980 a pilot project providing injectable morphine as a substitute for heroine, the municipality of Amsterdam took over their complete substitution program and from that moment the municipal public health service of Amsterdam became the country's largest methadone provider. Methadone had become a political issue at the city-level.

This was because the two main cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam had started to notice that the national the government strictly adhering to the international consensus on hard drug prohibition, left the practical problems to the municipalities 17.

The problem for the cities was the general public's increasing protest against the criminality that was caused by the addicts. The public wanted law and order and perceived the junkies as the main cause of unsafety and criminality. So, if we could not cure them of their addiction, we could at least provide them with methadone. We had to reach all the addicts, outreaching by methadone-bus in their own environment and to stuf them with "meet, which would change the addict into a decent citizen! Or, in other words, the easy availability of methadone served as an excuse to continue hard drug prohibition. The central paradigm of our policy towards hard drugs (heroine and cocaine) was: users are either criminals or patients. This results in a new contradiction: either drug users are responsable for their actions and are then considered criminals, to be put in jail, or irresponsible and considered patients, to be put in treatment. This contradiction is a result of the prohibitionist paradigm. By considering people unable to handle "drugs", as our governments do by prohibitionist legislation, people are defined as irresponsable. So when people use, this is "proof" of their irresponsability or proof of their criminality. The way out of this dilemma is to define use as responsable as long as it does not hurt others, as is done with alcohol. But as long as drugs are different from the legal drugs like alcohol, coffee and tobacco, there is just one value: to avoid chemical happiness at all price.



A new development in the Cannabis situation started when in Amsterdam "Mellow yellow", the first "coffeeshop" opened. The retailtrade, until now hidden in Youth Centres, went public again and took place in the open. No entrance fee for entering a youth centre is necessary: you simply walk in, choose the Cannabis-brand you like, buy an amount of it (generally either for DFl 10 or DFl 25) and walk out. Even drinking coffee is not necessary, although most coffeeshops have their regulars for whom the shop is as well a social centre, like any decent pub. The number of coffeeshops has since grown steadily to an estimated 1500 now, about one fifth of them in Amsterdam. This practice was soon considered to be regulated by the directive of 1980, which became known as the AHOY-directive. The limits of tolerance were defined by AHOY which stands for: no Advertising, no Hard Drugs, no Overlast (dutch for hindrance to the general public) and no Youth (youth being defined as under 16, this being the same age that is required for the bying of alcohol.

This policy drew significant opposition of our neighbouring countries, especially Germany. The easy availability of Cannabis in the Netherlands was again and again critisized: the Netherlands were pictured as the weak spot in the prohibitionist chain, Rotterdam was the port of entry by excellence for drugs (which actually was true, but not as the result of our drugpolicy, but as a consequence of being the largest port in the world), etc. This criticism had generally no influence on our policy, as drugs were not any more a political issue. The consensus of the seventies had to be protected.

The hard drugscenes

The heroinmarket changed significantly in the eighties. First, partly due to the availability of large amounts of methadone, the price of heroin dropped significantly. A sizable number of addicts became somewhat more integrated in society thanks to the methadone, and the increase of the number of users levelled of and even decreased in the second half of the decade. The appearance of AIDS in the early eighties forced the treatment system slowly in an even more care-oriented approach, and needle exchange programs became en vogue. This decrease in numbers was generally not visible for the general public as the hard core of Extremely Problematic Drugusers (EPD's) developed increasingly into polydrugusers, showing a behaviour that made them very visible. The increasing number of second generation immigrants among them added to that. But what added most to their conspiciousness was the addition of cocaine to their menu.


The spread of cocaine was the main development in the eighties. Although cocaine was already available in small quantities in the early seventies, mainly as relation-presents from Columbian marihuana producers, the use was confined to wholesale dealers in Cannabis and the jetset, as far as this exists in the Netherlands. However in the late seventies the available amount increased and it's use spread. Significantly this was not under the heroin-users, but under persons working in the catering industry. Working long evening hours the integrated use of stimulants, generally amphetamine was already well known in these circles, and the light, spiritual cocaine was a welcome replacement. Moreover, it had a stylish tinge, that was lacked by the ordinary amphetamine.

With an increasing availability in the eighties the use spread in the yuppie culture and among heroin users: cocaine replacing amfetamine. Freebasing became known, but was quickly rejected by the mainstream cocaine user as too heavy and survives mainly among the polydrugusers, the so-called EPD's. The overwhelming majority of cocaine-users does not have a deviant lifestyle and knows how to handle this drug 18.

But this development changed the public opinion on the drugproblem, while in the sixties and seventies the main issue was the "moral" threat to society, this changed in the eighties into the problem of drugrelated crime.

This however still hardly influenced the official dutch drugpolicy that was still defined by two principles: the separation of hard and soft drugmarkets and easy availability of methadone.


Two developments with regard to the drugmarket in the nineties are important:


Although the use of MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, was already spreading in the Netherlands since 1985, it got it's real popularity after it's inclusion in the Opium Law in 1988. The first supplies came from the U.S.A., but production of the drug in the Netherlands is presumed to have started in 1987. In general, the first producers sold their product only to friends and relations, so the nature of these relationships more ore less guaranteed the quality of their product. The chain producer-consumer was short, the production generally local. As however some XTC was smuggled into the U.K. where the use was already very popular the Dutch became the scapegoat and under heavy pressure of the U.K. XTC was brought under the Opium Law in 1988, on schedule I as hard drug, as are heroin, cocaine etc. As a result many decent small producers stopped their production, but as at the same time the popularity of XTC increased and demand rose logarithmically more criminally inclined people became involved. The discrepancy between supply and demand resulted in the provision of more dangerous "impostors", such as LSD, MDA, and particularly amphetamine: the demand was met by the supply of more dangerous drugs.

In the summer of 1992 MDEA, appeared on this market, quickly becoming a replacement of MDMA, because of being legal. When however in the summer of 1993 an MDEA-dealer started to sell MDEA high key from an autobus, the "MDEA-express", this provocation of the authorities backfired and MDEA was made illegal too.

An important factor in the increasing popularity was the emergence of the "rave" phenomenon. A new subculture developed with house music as its musical symbol and XTC as its drug of choice. Thus at the beginning of the nineties the Dutch society was confronted with a old phenomenon: non-medical druguse by adolescents and young adults, within a subcultural framework of resistance against mainstream society's values, which were this time those of the "no-nonsense" of the eighties.

And the whole history of the sixties starts to repeat itself.


The second important development was the production of "Nederwiet", domestic marihuana. For years people in the Netherlands had grown their own marihuana, but this used to be of very low quality. At the end of the eighties new varieties of Cannabis became available that could be grown outside as well as inside, having a THC content that was not different of the imported varieties from Columbia, Thailand etc. This led quickly to a significant domestic production of marihuana: "skunk" swept the market, becoming our fifth cash crop according to some observers. Although this trend contributed significantly to the decriminalisation of the wholesale trade, this was not considered as such and the last year we have seen a significant increase in police activity against the Cannabis-production and trade, even against the coffee-shops.

This was the result of three factors coinciding:

  • the need for a European drugpolicy as the result of the increasing unification of Europe, especially the disappearence of the internal borders. This time however not Germany was our biggest opponent, but France. Germany had started in the late eighties show more and more interest in the "Dutch approach", resulting in methadone programs, a trend to decriminalisation

and ever more extensive cooperation between the Netherlands and the German "L„nder" at our borders. France however, opposed the dutch policy ever stronger, using our "weak" policy, as an argument not to have Europol have its seat in the Netherlands.

  • the loss of interest in drugpolicy among the socialists
  • the political exploitation of the high public concern about unsafety and criminality by the Christian Democrats by focussing it on the "drug problem". The result is the present show- policy to decrease the number of coffee-shops selling Cannabis and increased police activity to drugs in general, although not on a level comparable to other countries with regard to users and retail traders.

Although our government presently seems trying to undo twenty years drugpolicy, this will only be temporarily, as the same mechanisms as twenty year ago will restore the balance. Or should we say, the present situation is only the result of the Dialectics of Progress?

1 Arnold H. Taylor: American Diplomacy and the narcotics traffic, 1900-1939. Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., 1969

2 Ewald Vanvugt: Wettig opium, 350 jaar nederlandse opiumhandel in de indische archipel. In de Knipscheer, Haarlem, 1985

3 Although this law was created under the name Opium Law, opium being our main interest, it covered coca as well, as much as later extensions covered hemp, hallucinogens and stimulants.

4 Article 295 obliged all Parties to the Treaty to obey to the the Hague Convention and to enact the necessary legislation within twelve month.

5 In the twenties the Netherlands were the world's biggest producer of pure cocaine, as we succeeded to grow Erythroxylon in the Dutch East Indies, with a higher cocaine content than the South American variety.

6 J.P.Gavit: Opium. London, 1925 cited by: M.De Kort, De problematisering van het drugggebruik in Nederland 1850-1940, scriptie, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, 1988.

7 Captain W.Elliott, M.P., cited in: H.F.Judson: Heroin addiction in Britain. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York & London, 1973, page 17.

8 Calling De Telegraaf a tabloid is an injustice: De Telegraaf is a decent paper compared with tabloids as they exist in the USA and the UK, but in the Netherlands real tabloids do not exist as such. It is however De Telegraaf that can best be compared with tabloids of all Dutch papers.

9 F.van Ree: Een experimenteel psychopathologisch onderzoek van de reacties op L.S.D.-25. Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1964.

10 Ruimte in het drugbeleid. Rapport van een werkgroep van de Stichting Algemeen Centraal Bureau voor de Geestelijke Volksgezondheid. Boom, Meppel, 1971

  • 11 Hoge Raad, februari 1972, rolnr. 347
  • 12 Hoge Raad, maart 1972, rolnr. 348

13 Achterfronden en risico's van druggebruik. Rapport van de werkgroep verdovende middelen. Staatsuitgeverij, 's-Gravenhage, 1972.

14 The author has often questioned Americans, Canadians and Englishmen why their governments discarded the reports of their commissions and he obtained answers like; "that is always the way it goes with commission reports", so the question had to be reframed: "Why did the Dutch follow their advice?" The answer is simple, it is because they had to reach consensus.

15 The "driehoeksoverleg" (tripartite consultation) of the mayor, the local prosecutor and the local chief commissioner is an important instrument to gear to one another the policies of the municipal government and the Ministry of Justice on the municipal level.

16 A slab of opium could be bought in the Chinese quarter for a few guilders, amfetamine-tablets were sold at dfl 0,25.

17 The same perception led to the Frankfurter Resolution and the organisation of the "European Cities on a New Drug Policy", that opposes the actual drugpolicy of the central governments and advocates Cannabis legalisation, prescription of hard drugs to addicts etc.

18 P.Cohen: Cocaine Use in Amsterdam in non-deviant subcultures. Instituut voor Sociale Geografie, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1989.


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Our valuable member Erik Fromberg has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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