According to mayor Femke Halsema, we must facts face it: the War on Drugs is not working. She advocates a different approach: legalizing and strictly regulating the sale of cocaine and other drugs. That's a brave statement. Firstly, because the mayor made this statement during a congress with a number of European ministers on organized crime. The congress was organized by Justice Minister Dylan Yeşilgöz and ministers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain were present. Second, because she made this statement as mayor of the capital of the Netherlands. A strong signal for a difficult audience.
Previously, it was always former mayors or former presidents who recognized the failure of the War on Drugs. That picture is now changing. Colombia's current president, Gustavo Preto, is calling for the legalization of cocaine. The Colombian government is plan introduce legislation to decriminalize cocaine and cannabis.
By legalizing and regulating the sale of cocaine, the Colombian government aims to keep the lucrative drug market away from armed groups and cartels. Current US President Joe Biden has ordered a review of cannabis policies, pardons for previous cannabis possession convictions, and a reassessment of cannabis classification. These are steps in the right direction, with great symbolic value. In the US, cannabis is now on the same list (Schedule I) as heroin.
While the international call to legalize and regulate the sale of drugs is getting louder and louder, the Dutch government is burying its head in the sand and doing exactly the opposite. In response to Mayor Halsema's plea, Minister Yeşilgöz announced that the ministers had jointly decided to fight against drugs to intensify.
Substance group ban: bad idea
Recently, the government sent a proposal to the House of Representatives to bring hundreds of substances (which are still legal and of which it is unknown whether they are harmful to public health) under the scope of the Opium Act. If it is up to the cabinet, entire groups of substances will soon be banned as a precaution.
Different factions have (rightly) hundreds written questions made on this proposal. Several organizations have also drawn attention to the consequences of the substance groups ban, also known as the 'new drugs law'. In doing so, they pointed out the consequences of this proposal.
The new drug law is based on the precautionary principle. That principle is at odds with the international drug conventions on which the Opium Act is based. Hundreds of substances will soon be banned without evidence that they are harmful to health or society. According to the government, it is at most “plausible” that these (often as yet) unknown substances can cause health damage.
The government bases the ban on substances groups on assumptions and assumptions that are not substantiated by facts or scientific studies. In fact, the available scientific studies show that the introduction of a substance groups ban does not work. On the contrary, it leads to more drug use, more incidents and more illegal drug trafficking. A substance group ban also creates serious obstacles to scientific research. Even the RIVM has indicated (as early as 2012) that a generic approach based on a chemical structure is not feasible and has advised against introducing a substance group ban. Nevertheless, the government has not found it necessary to ask RIVM again to investigate the desirability of the new drugs law. Apparently people in The Hague are not reassured about the results of such an investigation.
In addition, the introduction of a substance group ban is not proportional. NPS are hardly used in the Netherlands and there are few incidents with NPS. So there is actually no reason for a ban on substances groups, while its introduction does cost extra money and extra capacity for the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the NFI; organizations that already kampen with capacity problems and staff shortages. The new drug law will soon be at the expense of other criminal investigations, such as sex crimes.
The proposal appears to be mainly intended to meet requests for mutual legal assistance from other countries that have already introduced substance group bans, such as Germany and Belgium. The problem is that the Opium Act is not intended for that at all and that in this way Dutch drug policy will soon be determined to a considerable extent by the countries surrounding us.
Arbitrary in violation of the rule of law
The government does not even have a clear plan for communicating the substance group ban to citizens. The solution proposed by the government is completely insufficient, according to the Council of State. The proposal is therefore at odds with the principle of legality. This principle is jeopardized if large groups of substances are banned, without it being clear which substances are covered. It must be clear to a citizen what exactly is punishable, especially if there are severe penalties.
The new drug law bans hundreds of substances, allows people to face severe penalties, closes homes (under the Damocles Act) without people even suspecting they've done something wrong. In doing so, the cabinet opens the door to arbitrary and selective action by the government and this proposal goes against the basic principles of the Dutch constitutional state.
Everything seems justified in the fight against drugs, but in a free, democratic society such as the Netherlands, citizens are entitled to protection against the government. The rule of law is a guarantee against abuse of power and arbitrariness by the government. A law should never go against its basic principles. If the government lets go of that principle, society will soon be confronted with an opiate crisis, alongside all other crises. That's why this appeal to politicians: better to regulate smart than to ban stupidly.