are in Research
Drugs Policy in the
of Health, Welfare and Sport, The Netherlands, April 1997
main aim of the drugs policy in the Netherlands is to protect the health of individual
users, the people around them and society as a whole. Priority is given to vulnerable
groups, and to young people in particular. Policy also aims to restrict both the
demand and supply of drugs. Active policies on care and prevention are being pursued
to reduce the demand for drugs, while a war is being waged on organised crime
in an attempt to curb supplies. A third aim of policy is to tackle drug-related
nuisance and to maintain public order. The Netherlands now has twenty years' experience
of working with these policies on drugs.
the importance of an integrated approach, responsibility for drugs policy is borne
by a number of ministries. The Ministry of Justice is responsible matters falling
within the scope of criminal law and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport
for policy on prevention and care services and for coordinating drugs policy as
a whole. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for matters relating to local
government and the police. An integrated approach to drugs policy has been adopted
at local level too.
to appreciate the Dutch approach to the drugs problem, certain characteristics
of Dutch society must be kept in mind. The Netherlands is one of the most densely
populated, urbanised countries in the world. It has a population of 15.5 million,
occupying an area of no more than 41,526 square kilometres. The Netherlands has
a long history as a countyr of transit: Rotterdam is the largest seaport in the
world, while the country has a highly developed transport sector. The Dutch firmly
believe in the freedom of the individual, with the government playing no more
than a background in religious or moral issues. A cherished feature of Dutch society
is the free and open discussion of such issues. A high value is attached to the
wellbeing of society as a whole, as witness the extensive social security system
and the fact that everyone has access to health care and education.
basic priciples of the Opium Act
on drugs are laid down in the Opium Act. The Act draws a distinction between hard
drugs, (e.g. heroin, cocaine and XTC) which pose an unacceptable hazard to health,
and soft drugs (e.g. hashish and marijuana), whihc constitute a far less serious
hazard. The possession of drugs is an offence. However, the possession of a small
quantity of soft drugs for personal use is a minor offence.
and exporting drugs are the most serious offences under the provisions of the
Opium Act, although manufacturing, selling and attempting to import drugs are
also offences. As in the case in other countries, the cultivation of hemp is prohibited,
except for certain agricultural purposes (e.g. to form windbreaks, and for the
production of rope). New legislation is currently being drafted to raise the maximum
penalty for commercial hemp production from two to four years imprisonment.
the principle that everything should be done to stop drug users from entering
the criminal underworld where they would be out of reach of the institutions responsible
for prevention and care, the use of drugs is not an offence.
offences and maximum penalties
maximum penalty for importing or exporting hard drugs is 12 years imprisonment
and a fine of 100,000 guilders. Anyone found in possession of a quantity of hard
drugs for personal use is liable to a penalty of one year imprisonment and a fine
of 10,000 guilders. The maximum penalty for importing or exporting soft drugs
is four years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 guilders.
offenders are liable to a maximum penalty of 16 years imprisonment and a fine
of 1,000,000 guilders. Moreover, offenders may be deprived of any advantage gained
from the offence.
and prosecutions policy
in the case in many other countries, the expediency priciple is applied in Dutch
policy on investigations and prosecutions. This means that the public prosecutor
may decide not to institute prosecution proceedings if it is not in the public
interest. The highest priority is given to the investigation and prosecution of
international trafficking in drugs; the possession of small quantities of drugs
for personal use is accorded a much lower priority.
found in possession of less than 0.5 grammes of hard drugs will generally not
be prosecuted, though the police will confiscate the drug and consult a care agency.
The expediency principle
is applied to the sale of cannabis in coffee shops in order to seperate the users'
markets for hard and soft drugs and keep young people who experiment with cannabis
away from hard drugs.
sale of small quantities of soft drugs in coffee shops (which are not allowed
to sell alcohol) is therefore technically an offence, but prosecution proceedings
are only instituted if the operator or owner of the shop does not meet
the following criteria:
more than five grammes per person may be sold in any one transaction;
hard drugs may be sold;
may not be advertised;
coffee shop must not cause any nuisance;
drugs may be sold to minors (under the age of 18), nor may minors be admitted
to the premises.
mayor may order a coffee shop closed.
the Opium Act is designed to tackle drug trafficking directly, a number of measures
have been to counter the problem indirectly, such as legislation which makes it
easier to investigate and confiscate the proceeds of drug trafficking and prevent
money laundering. Dutch banks, for instance, are obliged to report any unusaual
financial transactions. Since 1995, legislation has been in force which enables
monitoring of the trade in precursors (i.e. substances which are not in themselves
illegal but which may be used in the manufacture of drugs).
factors which have made the Netherlands into an attractive transit country for
legitimate traders unfortunately apply equally to traders in illegal products.
The government is making every effort to counter the illicit use of the Dutch
infrastructure. In March 1995 controls were abolished at the internal borders
of the Schengen countries, i.e. the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany,
France, Spain and Portugal. As a result, controls at the external borders have
been stepped up:
and police officers and members of the Royal Military Policy have formed a special
drugs squad at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to combat drug smuggling;
special scanner is used to screen containers held in terminals in the port of
Rotterdam. Similar equipment will also be purchased for the port of Amsterdam
and Schiphol Airport. In combination with the successful risk analysis system
developed by the Dutch customs authorities, the scanner has increased the chance
of finding drugs concealed in containers. Close cooperation has been astablished
between the customs authorities of the EU member states;
police and criminal justice authorities in the Netherlands, France and Belgium
are working closely together to counter drug tourism and drug couriers on the
route between Lille, Antwerp, Hazeldonk and Rotterdam;
have been concluded with Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg on police cooperation,
and with France on cooperation between the customs authorities. Exchanges are
organised between French and Dutch police and customs officers and public prosecutors;
Dutch drug liaison officers are stationed in a number of countries and police
officers from other countries have been posted to embassies in the Netherlands
to act in the same capacity;
special team has been formed to tackle the production of and trade in synthetic
of efforts to counter drug trafficking
1995 351 kg of heroin were confiscated. The Netherlands is not a major transit
country for heroin and most consignments that are confiscated come through other
1995 4,851 kg of cocaine were confiscated - 23% of the total amount confiscated
in the EU in that year. In 1994, 215 kg of amphetamines were confiscated, in addition
to 143,000 pills containing other synthetic drugs (mainly MDMA, MDA and MDEA).
17 illegal laboratories for the production of synthetic drugs were dismantled
in 1995, while a total of 50 were dismantled in the EU in the same year. In 1995
too, 549,337 hemp plants and 332 tonnes of cannabis were confiscated - 44% of
the total amount confiscated in the EU that year. In 1994, 323 illegal hemp nurseries
were dismantled. With these confiscations, the Netherlands occupies a leading
position in the international war on drugs.
and public order
1995 the number of coffee shops increased, and some have given rise to considerable
nuisance, while some have links with criminal organisations. For these reasons,
the Dutch government has decided to tighten up controls.
on coffee shops is largely decided at local level - by the local authorities,
the police and the public prosecutions department. The municipalities have gained
wider powers to tackle the problem of nuisance by limiting the number of coffee
shops operating within their district. As a result, the past 18 months have witnessed
an 11% drop in the total number of coffee shops. This vigorous policy will continue
to be pursued until the number of coffee shops has reached the minimum at which
the objective of separating the markets can be achieved.
conditions and safety are a high priority in the major cities. In the past four
years, the Netherlands has invested an extra 60 million guilders in projects to
tackle drug-related nuisance and in facilities for the treatment and rehabilitation
of the addicts who cause it. Addicted offenders are now given the option of detoxification
treatment or serving a prison sentence.
tourism gives rise to serious nuisance, and efforts to counter it have been accorded
a high priority. Agrrement has been reached with France on a simplified transfer
procedure for drug tourists, while foreign tourists may be expelled from the country.
One of the objectives of reducing the number of coffee shops and the quantity
of cannabis that may be sold is to counter drug tourism. From time to time, investigations
will be conducted targeting foreigners who export quantities for sale in their
The protection of
the health of drug users is a major priority, and a wide range of facilities are
available. The Netherlands spends more than 300 million guilders a year on facilities
for addicts. Over half of this amount is spent on the drug problem. There are
12 clinics for the treatment of addicts, and their capacity has been increased,
from 500 places in 1980 to 961 in 1995.
the past ten years accessability of care services has improved considerably. These
services now reach an estimated 75% of all addicts. their aim is to reach as many
addicts as possible to assist them in efforts to rehabilitate, or to limit the
risks caused by their drug habit. Social rehabilitation is an essential element.
to achieve these
aims, an extensive network of services has been established. Methadone programmes
enable addicts to lead reasonably normal lives without causing nuisance to their
immediate environment, while needle exchange programmes prevent the transmission
of diseases such as AIDS and hepatitus B through infected needles. The services
also provide counselling.
an important role in Dutch drugs policy. Schools in particular are targeted in
efforts to discourage drug use, while campaigns are conducted in the mass media
to reach the broader public. In late 1996, a campaign was launched to counter
the use of cannabis, while XTC will be the subject of a similar campaign in early
of these campaigns is to discourage the use of cannabis and XTC. The use of XTC
is particularly among young people attending raves and discos. In 1995, to prevent
accidents occurring during such large-scale events, municipalities were issued
with guidelines on ways of maintaining public order and safety and limiting health
risks, which many now apply when issuing licences. As a result, far fewer accidents
now occur during these events.
of public health policy
were 2.4 drug-related deaths per million inhabitants in the Netherlands in 1995.
In France this figure was 9.5, in Germany 20, in Sweden 23.5 and in Spain 27.1.
According to the 1995 report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug
Addiction in Lisbon, the Dutch figures are the lowest in Europe. The Dutch AIDS-prevention
programme was equally successful. Europe-wide, an average of 32.9% of AIDS victims
were intravenous drug-users. In the Netherlands, this percentage is as low as
10.5%. The number of addicts in the Netherlands has been stable - at 25,000 -
for many years.
as a percentage of the population, this number is approximately the same as in
Germany, Sweden and Belgium. There are very few young heroin addicts in the Netherlands,
largely thanks to the policy of separating the users markets for hard drugs and
soft drugs. The average age of heroin addicts is now 36.
most EU countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Sweden and the
Netherlands, the use of cannabis has increased in the past few years. A similar
trend is, unfortunately, discernible with regard to synthetic drugs. Evidently,
international youth culture has more influence on the use of these substances
than government policies. International cooperation is therefore vital in tackling
Dutch policies in the field of health protection have been relatively successful,
some adjustments are needed. the nature of the drugs problem is constantly changing
and a ceaseless effort must therfore be made to seek the best means of limiting
the damage drugs can cause to health. Monitoring (following and recording trends)
as well as scientific research are therefore essential if an adequate response
is to be given when new risks emerge.
Netherlands occupies a leading position internationally in research and monitoring,
as witness the 1995 report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug
Addiction in Lisbon. A national drugs monitoring system will be set up in the
course of 1997.
supplement the European Monitoring Centre's work, a number of international comparative
studies have recently been conducted to analyse the extent of the drugs problem
and the policies and the policies pursued. Studies were published on the policies
pusued on cannabis in the Caribbean, Germany, France and the United States, and
these were compared with Dutch policy. A study was also conducted of policy on
hard drugs in France. A bilateral study of the situation in Sweden and the Netherlands
is currently under preparation.
extensive study has been launched of the nature and extent of XTC use, the results
of which will be published in the spring of 1997. The study will examine factors
such as the pharmocological and toxicological effects of this drug, as well as
its social and epidemiological impact.
are continually amended in response to such studies.