Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema has told the Guardian in an opinion piece that the Netherlands risks becoming a “narco state” and that governments worldwide must reassess their approach to dealing with illegal drugs.
In the past Dutch drugs policy, focusing on reducing the health risks for users, was “relatively successful”, the trade had little impact on the economy or daily life, she said.
However, “spurred on by globalisation and the international criminalisation of drugs, the illegal drugs trade has become more lucrative, professional and ruthlessly violent,” the mayor told the paper.
“Amsterdam, as an international financial hub, now serves as a marketplace where the demand for drugs is being determined, and negotiations and payments are being made from all over the world,” the mayor wrote. “If this continues… our economy will be inundated with criminal money and violence will reach an all-time high.”
The drugs trade, she said, had impacted on neighbourhoods, led vulnerable youngsters into a life of crime and is seeping into ordinary society. “Without a fundamental change of course,” she said, “the Netherlands is in danger of becoming a narco-state.”
The Netherlands’ problems, she said, highlight the need for international recognition that the war on drugs is counterproductive. This means governments at every level, locally and internationally, should debate alternatives and develop new alliances that prioritise health and safety over punitive measures.
“Market regulation, government monopolies or provision for medical purposes are just some of the possible, not necessarily exclusive, alternatives,” the mayor said. “But none are quick fixes. Criminals have shown that they will use violence to protect their profits, and the health risks of some drugs are still huge.”
Instead, governments must change course and accept that there will be a temporary backlash, she said. “The future of our young people, our quality of life, the stability of our economy and rule of law are at stake.”
Amsterdam is hosting a conference on the international drugs trade on January 26 which will focus on what steps can be taken towards developing a “more realistic approach” to drugs policy.
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