FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Turning Back Time

420 Caf?, Amsterdam.

When I got back to Amsterdam last week and checked into my headquarters at the 420 Caf?, I received an urgent message from the proprietor, Michael Veling, in response to my last column, which talked about attempts to restrict access to cannabis in the Netherlands:

Mike has owned and operated the 420 Caf? (formerly Caf? deKuil) for more than 20 years and has been a cannabis activist even longer. He’s worked through the coffeeshop registration edicts of the mid-1990s, the imposition of the on-site 500-gram limit, the reduction from 30 to five allowable grams per consumer, the replacement of Dutch currency with the euro in 2000, the banning of alcohol sales in coffeeshops in 2007 (deKuil was a bar for 100 years or so), and the proscription against tobacco smoking the next year. Through it all, he has conformed with official policy while maintaining a successful establishment that supplies its patrons with the finest of weed and hash in a friendly, comfortable environment.

Mike was also a founder of Amsterdam’s coffeeshop coalition, Cannabis Bond, and is a careful observer of the political scene as it pertains to the local cannabis culture. For several years he was active in the local branch of the (then) Dutch ruling party, the Christian Democrats (CDA) ? sort of equivalent to the Republicans in America ? and served a term as deputy to a CDA Amsterdam council member in order to force the party to accept a coffeeshop owner into its ranks despite the party’s traditional stance against cannabis legalization.

So when Mike dismissed the current government’s plan to turn the coffeeshops into private clubs, “accessible only to people officially living in the Netherlands” (DutchNews.nl) in order to “reduce drugs-related tourism and public nuisance,” I felt better already, because the several people I’d spoken with before leaving town had been uniformly pessimistic about the chances for survival of the established system that works so well for everyone except the anti-drug fanatics in Parliament.

I’m still trying to get my head around the proposal, because it seems totally idiotic and so drastically un-Dutch. It seems to stem from a 2009 study by a government commission, which found that “the bigger the coffee shops get, the more likely they are to be in the hands of organized crime. To that end, the commission recommended cafes become smaller and should only sell to locals,” according to DutchNews.nl.

“The government is also planning to increase efforts to drive organized crime out of the production and trade of marijuana. … The illegal growing industry is thought to be worth some 2 billion euros [$2,840,000,000] a year. According to the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf, some 40,000 people are involved in marijuana cultivation and some 5,000 plantations are busted every year.”

Duh! Under the present system, where retail sale of cannabis is permitted but cultivation and distribution remain strictly illegal (beyond the five plants adults are allowed to cultivate for their own use), growing marijuana is organized crime per se.

If cannabis were fully legalized, organized crime would be replaced by an above-ground industry that would employ thousands of people and generate enormous tax revenues for the Dutch coffers from the cannabis businesses themselves, the personal income taxes of the owners and operators, and the employment and earnings taxes on the workers.

The current government seems to have been emboldened by a ruling from European Union (EU) Advocate General Yves Bot, who said the Netherlands was within its rights to ban tourists from coffee shops if the move is necessary to protect public order and reduce the nuisance caused by drugs tourism. Bot felt further that the Dutch ban would contribute to the EU’s efforts to combat the illegal drugs trade.

The border town of Maastricht has already closed its coffee shops to tourists on the “public nuisance” tip, while Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom have banned coffeeshops altogether. Currently the Council of State, Holland’s highest court, has appealed to the European judiciary to determine whether the Maastricht ban conflicts with EU laws.

Finally, DutchNews.nl reports with a straight face, “Ministers say they expect the closure of coffee shops to tourists will lead to a reduction in drugs-related tourism. Nevertheless, ‘adequate measures’ will be taken by police and officials to make sure the move does not lead to an increase in street dealing.” Hmmm, sounds like they wanna embrace the American Dream of a real War on Drugs with a powerful police state apparatus to hound the tourists and their street-level suppliers.

Let’s get one thing straight: When they say “drugs-related tourism” they’re talking about people who come to Holland to smoke pot ? or, in the case of the border towns, to cop some weed over the counter and take it back to Belgium or Germany or France and smoke it at home. If my memory serves, the little city of Maastricht itself took in about 13 million euros (about $18,500,000) last year from “drugs-related tourism.”

My informants, including Michael Veling, Ravi Dronkers of the Sensi Seeds combine and Sidney Daniels of Ceres Seeds and the Hempshopper, have pointed out that the figures cited by the Telegraaf ? 40,000 people involved in marijuana cultivation generating 2 billion worth of business ? are ridiculously underestimated, and predict that the numbers would increase exponentially if cultivation and wholesale distribution were fully legalized.

The really sick thing is that this reactionary move by the Dutch government takes place in the face of the recent call by the official Global Commission on Drug Policy for an end to the War on Drugs, to shift “from criminalization to public health and from incarceration to … decriminalization to legalization and regulation.”

There has been a long string of officially commissioned studies that have basically reached the same conclusion, but this international commission includes “four former presidents, United Nations dignitaries, authors and intellectuals, health and security officials, NGO directors and entrepreneurs.”

The run-up to the War on Drugs began 50 years ago, in 1961, when the United Nations initiated the UN Single Drug Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Ten years later, on June 17, 1971, Richard Nixon declared: “America’s public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out … worldwide offensive.”

“So began a war,” Charles M. Blow wrote in The New York Times, “that has waxed and waned, sputtered and sprinted, until it became an unmitigated disaster, an abomination of justice and a self-perpetuating, trillion-dollar economy of wasted human capital, ruined lives and decimated communities … one of the biggest, most expensive, most destructive social policy experiments in American history: The war on drugs.”

Since 1971, more than 40 million arrests have been conducted for drug-related offenses. And, according to UN estimates, between 1998 and 2008, annual consumption has grown by 34.5 percent for opiates, 27 percent for cocaine and 8.5 percent for cannabis, whose users worldwide number 160 million.

That’s an awful lot of us, and maybe our screams of pain as victims of the War on Drugs are beginning to be heard and maybe even heeded. It’s about time!

John Sinclair, founder of the White Panthers, is a poet. His latest book is It’s All Good.

 

 

 

More articles by:

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail