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WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - A Dutch health official Thursday
defended his country's progressive drug policies, saying that they
have helped the Netherlands keep rates of drug use and HIV infection
at relatively low levels.

He also denied accusations that the country's acceptance of personal
marijuana use means that law enforcement agencies there are soft on
international drug traffickers who use Holland as a center for
shipping ecstasy and other drugs to the United States.

"The idea that the Netherlands has a tolerant position on drug trade
and production is a misconception," said Peter Pennekamp, the
Netherlands' Undersecretary for Health, Welfare and Sport. "You have
to go after hard drugs as strongly as possible. There should be no
misunderstanding about that."

The port at the Dutch city of Rotterdam and Amsterdam's Schiphol
Airport have both become major way stations for the trans-Atlantic
drug trade. Pennekamp said that his government is in the process of
stepping up its ecstasy interdiction operations as the drug becomes
more and more popular among European and American teenagers.

The Netherlands has come under fire in recent years from American
customs officials who feel that the country does not do enough to
control drug shipments from Europe to the United States.

That belief has been fueled in part by Holland's permissive attitude
toward some drugs, including marijuana and hashish. Marijuana remains
technically illegal in the Netherlands, but national drug policy
permits individuals to purchase up to 5 grams of cannabis from
authorized retailers.

The aim of the policy is not to encourage drug use but to provide a
controlled environment so that young people who resist the
government's antidrug messages and experiment with marijuana do not
have to come into contact with street dealers, Pennekamp said.

"Primary prevention alone is often not sufficient," he said. The
government uses a similar strategy for users of harder drugs,
providing clean needles and easy-to-get treatment for heroin addicts.

Rates of marijuana use in Holland are about average for Western
Europe. About 18% of Dutch people claim to have ever used marijuana,
compared to 25% of Britons and 33% of Americans, according to data
from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs.
The Netherlands has the fifth highest rates of cannabis use among
European teenagers, with 14% of 5- to 16-year-olds claiming use in the
past month.

Deaths related to heroin and other "hard drugs" remain relatively
low in the Netherlands. Holland in 1995 saw 0.5 drug-related deaths
per 100,000 population, according to European Union statistics. AIDS
rates in Holland in 1998 were among the lowest in Europe at one new
case per million persons.

Still, the Netherlands continues try to deal with the problem of drug
trafficking through its ports. Responding to questions from reporters,
Pennekamp said that his country was looking to the United States to
control its flourishing drug market.

"Any reduction in demand would help us," he said.

Pubdate: Thu, 01 Mar 2001
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 2001 Reuters Limited
Note: Het Nederlandse 'Media Awareness Project'
MAP-NL has distributed and archived
map-nl - digest index over 200 articles, in Dutch, from the
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