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AMSTERDAM- The Dutch model of 'soft' drugs has advanced into French-speaking
territory. The controversial policy of tolerance is no longer reserved to
the Netherlands; now Belgium no longer penalizes smoking a joint.
Nevertheless the Belgians are not expected to receive much criticism; more
and more European cities have an informal policy of tolerance. The
department of justice and the police would rather catch a crack dealer than
a hash smoker.

The Netherlands no longer stand alone; this sends an important signal to
other European countries, Mr. R. Kerssemakers of the Amsterdam-based
Jellinek clinic thinks. The countries that already follow the trend of
decriminalisation - such as Germany, Denmark, England and Spain - might not
fear putting this into law as well. Studies show that there is no direct
relation between problematic use and national drug policy - whether the
policy is liberal or repressive.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
(EMCDDA) in Lisbon one in five Europeans (45 million persons) have tried
cannabis at least once. Around 15 million Europeans have 'experimented' with
cannabis in 1999. The United Kingdom is the front runner with 10 percent of
adults. Spain follows with 7 percent; Denmark is at the lower end with 3
percent. All other member states have a score of maximally 5 percent.
According to EMCDDA most use is temporary in nature.

However, a harmonious European soft-drugs policy will not arrive soon.
France, Luxemburg and Greece for instance do not discriminate between hard
and soft drugs. There is also a difference in penalties.

Dutch policy of tolerance catches on abroad

Possession of small amounts for personal use is an offense in Germany, but
it doesn't lead to prosecution if there is no harm to others. In Italy, the
first time, the owner of a bag of marijuana will be warned. If caught again,
his passport may be taken.

When the European Union will be expanded, the contrast between countries
that denounce the tolerant policy and those that (quietly) favor it will
only intensify, researcher D. Korf of the University of Amsterdam predicts.
According to the criminologist, basically there wil be countries that want
to slowly legalise softdrugs and others that adhere to the repressive
Swedish model.

Sweden is of the opinion that cannabis use can result in psychological and
physical dependence and that it functions as a 'gateway' to hard drugs. In
firm governmental campaigns the Swedes are warned that smoking a joint can
lead to depression and suicide.

Young offenders are not often put behind bars, but are sent off to the
forests for a year. 'A great camp ground, but under extreme state control'.

The Netherlands will keep its pioneering position in the coming years since
it is the only country to have coffee shops - the Belgians do not want any
'tea rooms' yet. There are several countries with 'intermediate' forms, says
criminologist Korf. Denmark has a liberated area in Copenhagen since the
nineteen seventies, where hash and marijuana are sold.

Like in Spain, in certain member states of Germany, drugs are sold under the
counter in bars for the young. Even Paris, that fiercely criticised the
Dutch policy of tolerance a few years ago, has a more lenient drug policy.
France too, now has methadone programmes for heroin addicts.

A gap still exists, however, between the country-side and the big cities in
Europe, says Korf. 'The same is seen in the Netherlands. We tend to forget
that four in five towns have no coffee shops'.

Newshawk: Harry Bego
Pubdate: Sat, 20 Jan 2001
Source: De Volkskrant
Author: Annieke Kranenberg
Contact: redactie@volkskrant.nl
Address: Postbus 1002 1000 BA A'dam
Fax: 020-5626289
Website: de Volkskrant - Voor nieuws, achtergronden en columns
Copyright: de Volkskrant
Note: Translation by newshawk
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