Before the city of Maastricht chose to pursue marijuana prohibition policies they first asked a team of researchers to examine what impact it would have. The researchers found that the proposed “membership” system for coffeeshops, which included banning all non-residents from going into establishments, would have disastrous effects on the cities public safety, health, and economic situation. In response, the government demanded new research with results that would support their new mission to shut down marijuana cafe’s that have existed since the 1990’s. Today there are a several municipalities that have adopted this prohibition policy that is scheduled to go national by January 2013, and the results are already being felt. Nicole Maalsté is a researcher from Tilburg University who has been examining the issue of drug policy and coffeeshops in the Netherlands over the course of several decades. She joins me on today’s podcast to explain what her work has revealed and just how the relationship between politics and research has led to a startling reality on the street level.
When it comes to drug policy and coffeeshops in the Netherlands, we rarely hear the voices of those who work behind the counter and see how things work (or don’t work). Nel has lived and worked in the coffeeshop world for over 5 years and in that time he has seen the daily routine of the cannabis industry and the politics that revolve around it. What he knows is not the political theater that so often gets reported on in the media, his story is the reality that somehow does not always trump the growing list of myths that surround cannabis in the Netherlands.
Over the past years alot of half-assed information has been spread by a combination of poor journalism and rumors via social media, which states that foreigners can no longer buy cannabis in coffeeshops in Amsterdam. Though this is untrue, word about an experimental policy in the south of the Netherlands has travelled. Many, both outside and inside the country, believe its only a matter of time before prohibition becomes a national reality. But the truth is, that is still only one of many possible futures for the Netherlands. Beyond that, research and reality shows the experiment is a failure, yet politicians remain locked into their white-washing campaign to clean the image of the nation. My returning guest is Frederik Pollak, a researcher and policy expert who has been following the discussion for over a decade, and has alot to say about what is really going on in the Netherlands and around the world.
Two Dutch municipalities decided last year that all their coffeeshops must be closed down. While in other cities, like nearby Breda, city governments have no intention of going back to the days of street dealing in back alleys and dark corners. Selçuk Akinci is a blogging–tweeting digital native, not to mention the chairperson of the Green Party Delegation for the city council of Breda. He has also spoken out and written over the last few years on the topic of coffeeshops and the attempts to shut them down or instate pass-card systems where only card carrying members could make purchases. When in 2008, neighboring municipalities to Breda decided to close down their coffeeshops in effort to chase away drug tourism and other alleged undesireable elements, Selçuk was a vocal part of the effort to serve the influx of customers by setting up more coffeeshops in strategic locations.
From Breda, to the national level, to the European Court of Justice, Selçuk and I discuss drug policy in the Netherlands and just which way the political and social wind is blowing.
People around the world admire, hate, or giggle at what they think they know about drug policies in the Netherlands. But how much do they really know? To get beyond the tall tales and the half-baked explanation you’ll get from enthusiasts on both sides of the drug issue, it is important to not only look at the facts, but to hear real experience and analysis. Not to mention to learn the details of just what the political and social climate aims to do with the future of Dutch drug policy.
As part of a running series of podcasts on the Reality of Drug Policy in the Netherlands, I begin with this program featuring a conversation with Freek Polak of the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation.
During the program Freek mentions this video of his face-off with the Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.