Pubdate: Wed, 29 Aug 2001
Source: ABC News 20/20 Downtown
Copyright: 2001 ABC News
Anchor: John Quinones
Reporter: Chris Cuomo


Announcer: Law And Disorder continues.  Once again, Chris Cuomo.

Chris Cuomo reporting:  What would you say if I told you the answer to the 
drug problem could be right under your nose?  Actually it could be in your 
mouth.  Forget about more police or more laws, the way to defeat the 
epidemic of heroine and cocaine: easier access to marijuana.  That's right. 
Allow people to walk to the corner store, buy some pot and smoke it up. 
Crazy you say?  Well, reserve judgement until you see the results in 
Holland, where they believe that tolerating marijuana use is an antidote to 
harder drugs.  So take a look and decide for yourself. Does the answer to 
the drug problem lie in a country where cannabis is cool?

(VO) To understand why Holland has the most liberal drug policy on the 
planet, you need a little context.  This is a society that is all about 
tolerance. Just about every American taboo thrives here. Prostitution is a 
legal and profitable industry.  Same-sex marriage is legal too.  Even 
euthanasia is sanction by the Dutch government.  So maybe it's not 
surprising that in 1976 Holland decided to tolerate something else: the use 
of cannabis--marijuana and hashish.

Mr. Art Laseas: And here you don't have to go to jail if you're a marijuana 

Cuomo: (VO) The first person I talked to here was an American, psychologist 
Art Laseas (ph).  He came to Holland to research drug use and was so 
impressed by the policy he moved here.

Mr. Laseas: Here, in Holland, they've decided that marijuana is, in fact, a 
soft drug.

Cuomo: So what is the goal in allowing marijuana?

Mr. Laseas: The goal is to try to keep young people, in particular, away 
from the criminal drug environment that may get them involved with the 
harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin, which, of course, remain illegal in 

Offscreen Voice: Yeah, can I have three drums of...

Cuomo: (VO) So this is how the Dutch government is trying to keep young 
people off of hard drugs.  It tolerates--which basically means 'allows 
without legalizing'--the sale and use of cannabis in some 1200 licensed 
coffee shops. It works like this: as long as you're 18 you go in and order 
right off a marijuana menu.  After picking the type you choose the amount 
and pay.  The daily limit is five grams--about five joints worth--costing 
20 to 25 bucks. You can smoke it at the shop or take it home.  The concept 
enjoys wide support.

(OC) How do young people view Holland?

Unidentified Man #1: As Mecca.

Unidentified Woman: It's, like, you get out of work or you have a hard day, 
you go here, you smoke a joint, drink something with your friends. Just 
very relaxing.

Unidentified Man #2: You're going to have it anyway.  Now you make it 
safer. It's sponsored.  It's in a shop.

Mr. Laseas: All Holland is doing is acting on the pharmacological evidence 
that in terms of its acute and long-term effects, marijuana is a remarkably 
benign drug.

Cuomo: (VO) And this 69-year-old grandmother agrees.

Dr. Els Borst: Nobody has ever died, in this country, from cannabis use.

Cuomo: (VO) Dr. Els Borst is the Dutch Minister of Health.

Dr. Borst: People have died from tobacco, from alcohol, from heroine, from 
cocaine, but never from cannabis.

Cuomo: (VO) Still, marijuana is only tolerated, not legal.  And that's 
resulted in some confusing contradictions.  For instance, while the coffee 
shops do a brisk business, the growers who supply them operate illegally. 
They're often prosecuted and their crops are destroyed. Dutch officials say 
they'd fully legalize marijuana were it not for opposition of foreign 
governments, including ours.

(OC) If the whole world legalized marijuana, what do you think the result 
would be?

Dr. Borst: Well, the result would be that you could save a lot of money 
which you could use on the fight against the drugs that are more dangerous 
to our health.

Cuomo: (VO) Holland's liberal pot laws have spawned a whole cannabis 
subculture.  There's a marijuana museum, stores selling seeds and 
fertilizers, and others selling serious pot smoking paraphernalia.

Mr. Arian Roscam: (ph) Most customers will buy between five and $10; 99 
percent of the customers.

Cuomo: And how much is that?

Mr. Roscam: That would be between one and two grams.  So, for example...

Cuomo: (VO) Arian Roscam operates The Greenhouse Coffee Shops in Amsterdam.

Mr. Roscam: This is one gram.

Cuomo: So, who is the customer base?

Mr. ROSCAM: The customer base is everybody from 18 until 80.  I have a lot 
of politicians, I have a lot of police officers.  They're all allowed to 
smoke in Holland.  By law it's illegal to test people from the government 
using drugs.

Cuomo: Drug testing is illegal?

Mr. Roscam: Yes.

Cuomo: Do you smoke marijuana?

Dr. Borst: No.  I tried once.

Cuomo: Don't tell me you didn't in--inhale, Minister.

Dr. Borst: Together with my husband, but it didn't have any effect on us. 
So, it was--it was--the first and the last one.

Cuomo: (VO) While the minister of health may not partake, she doesn't buy 
into the theory that marijuana is a stepping stone to harder drugs. She 
points to a study showing that 75 percent of Dutch citizens who smoke 
cannabis abstain from all other drugs.

Dr. Borst: So, I think the stepping stone theory is not a sound theory.

Cuomo: (VO) But, many American experts believe marijuana is a stepping 
stone. Among them, retired General Barry McCaffrey, the former US drug 
czar.  He's called Dutch drug policy, "an unmitigated disaster" and says 
half the teen-agers entering drug treatment programs in the US are chronic 
abusers of marijuana.

Mr. Barry McCAFFREY: We don't agree that marijuana is a benign drug. We 
think it leads to dysfunctional behavior.  It requires effective drug 
treatment and we want to see high social disapproval of--of marijuana use.

Cuomo: Do you think there's any merit to the argument that if you let kids 
smoke marijuana, it will keep them from moving on to harder drugs because 
you take away the forbidden fruit element for kids?

Mr. McCAFFREY: What, should we let them shop lift and we'll take away the 
forbidden fruit of bank robberies?  I mean, what does this mean?

Cuomo: (VO) But the numbers appear to support the Dutch policy.  While 
marijuana is illegal in the US, Americans smoke just as much, on a per 
capita basis, as the Dutch.  And American teens smoke even more.

(OC) Dutch officials believe their policy of drug tolerance--allowing the 
use of marijuana--has greatly limited the presence of hard drugs in their 
society. But, putting statistics aside, when you walk the streets here, it 
doesn't take long to see, there's a lot more going on than just smoking dope.

(VO) We decided to test the theory that access to marijuana takes away the 
demand for hard drugs.

(Beginning of hidden camera footage)

Unidentified Man #3: Ecstasy, coke.

Cuomo: How much?

Man #3: One hundred a gram.

Cuomo: All right.  So let me get this straight, for the ecstasy, seven 
pills, how much?

Man #3: Huh?

Cuomo: Seven pills, how much?

Man #3: One seventy-five.

Cuomo: Come on, give me a good price.  I just got to town.

Man #3: Four fifty.

Cuomo: Six grams of coke for 450?

Man #3: Yeah.

(End of hidden camera footage)

Cuomo: (VO) With our Downtown hidden cameras rolling, we encountered 
dealers seemingly on every corner selling dangerous, illegal drugs like 
heroine and cocaine.

Unidentified Man #4: (From hidden camera) Don't be pulling my arm, man. 
Hey, this is Amsterdam, man.  This is Amsterdam.

Cuomo: (VO) It was literally more difficult to avoid buying drugs than to 
score.  While these dealers risk punishment, drug users have nothing to 
fear from the police, because in Holland all drug use is decriminalized.

(Beginning of hidden camera footage)

Unidentified Man #5: Listen to what I have to offer you.

Cuomo: What you got?

Man #5: I got pure cocaine, Colombia.  I sniff for myself.

Cuomo: What is that?

Unidentified Man #6: Ecstasy.

Cuomo: Do you have any heroin?

Man #6: I have.

Cuomo: Brown or white?

(End of hidden camera footage)

Cuomo: (VO) And this dealer tried to convince me that buying ecstasy was 
not only legal, it would enhance the gross national product.

(OC) (From hidden camera) I thought it was illegal to sell ecstasy here?

Unidentified Man #7: (From hidden camera) It's legal.  Ecstasy makes the 
country, man.  The economy of Holland is on drugs.

Cuomo: (VO) In America street dealers are dealt with harshly and often get 
jail time.

Unidentified Police Officer: Get your hands up in the air!

Cuomo: (VO) While the policy may have its drawbacks, this kind of 
enforcement keeps drugs off US streets.  It's clear from what we saw on 
Amsterdam streets that tolerance can go too far.

Unidentified Man #8: (From hidden camera) I have heroin.  I have 
cocaine.  I have ecstasy.

Cuomo: (VO) But that's not easy for the Dutch authorities to admit.

Mr. Stephen Van Hoogstraten: It is beyond the capacity of any police force 
to--to chase it off the streets.

Cuomo: (VO) Stephen Van Hoogstraten (ph) is with the Dutch Ministry of Justice.

(OC) Don't you have to get those guys off the street?  Don't you have to 
enforce that law?

Mr. Van Hoogstraten: What I know for sure is that the law enforcement 
troops in this country have their hands full in--in the drug situation.

Cuomo: Isn't that argument for more police?

Mr. Van Hoogstraten: There is a strong argument running in Dutch politics 
now for more police, for more safety on the streets.

Unidentified Man #9: (From hidden camera) What you need?  What you need?

Cuomo: (VO) Besides the obvious problem of street dealing, there's another 
by-product of lax enforcement: tiny Holland has become a major drug 
producer. In fact, it's the world's largest manufacturer of the popular 
drug synthetic drug ecstasy.  Ecstasy fuels the club and rave scene 
throughout Holland, and it's a major export.  Eighty percent of the ecstasy 
reaching America is made in Holland.  And Barry McCaffrey says the Dutch 
have only themselves to blame.

Mr. McCaffrey: Well, look, Holland ought to be on the majors list as a drug 
exporting country in the coming years.

Cuomo: Do you think that Holland becoming a production center for drugs may 
have something with their policy of tolerance?

Mr. McCaffrey: Oh, there's no question.  It's an outrage.  And at some 
point, you know, if we're going to apply these laws on certification to 
Colombia and Nigeria and Mexico and other nations, we ought to look doing 
the same thing to the Dutch.

Cuomo: But, beyond the street dealers and the club kids are the hardest 
cases of them all: the men and women hopelessly addicted to heroin and 
cocaine. Not surprisingly, Holland's answer to that problem is tolerance as 
well.  Here in Rotterdam there's a program that signals the next step in 
what they call 'drug harm reduction'; a program that actually provides 
drugs to confirmed addicts.

How often do you come?

Unidentified Man #10: Every day.

Cuomo: (VO) It's scene you're likely to see only in Holland: hard-core 
addicts.  Some mainline heroine, others inhale heroine vapors.  They call 
it, 'chasing the dragon,' but this isn't happening in a back alley or 
abandoned building.  The addicts are buying and using drugs in the basement 
of a Dutch reform church in downtown Rotterdam.

(OC) Who's selling it?

Man #10: We have about one, two, three, four dealers.  They are basically 
in shifts.  They sell it.

Cuomo: (VO) Reverend Hans Visser says that, while illegal, his program has 
taken addicts off the streets and provided them with a safe 
environment.  In true Dutch fashion, the authorities have looked the other way.

(OC) Why do you think America sees the drug policy so differently from you 
and the Dutch?

Reverend Hans Visser: I think for Americans it's drugs problem a moral 
problem, hm (sic)?  For me, is it more a medical problem (sic).  I think a 
drug addict is sick.  We need good treatment for him or her. Presents don't 

Cuomo: What do you think of that?

Mr. McCaffrey: It's completely ludicrous.

Cuomo: But, at what point do you realize that, This person's sick. Don't 
hold them to the regular standard or society behavior.  They can't make it.'

Mr. McCaffrey: We can minimize chronic addiction in America by 
intelligently creating drug prevention and education programs in our 
communities.  That's what we're trying to do and it's going to work.

Cuomo: (VO) But as we've all seen in high-profile cases like Darryl 
Strawberry and Robert Downey Jr., jail is no substitute for treatment when 
it comes to curing addiction.  Still, the US spends more time prosecuting 
addicts than helping them recover.  Art Laseas says the Dutch have found a 
better way.

Mr. Laseas: They're still treated as human beings and not as--not as 
criminal scum.  They're not even interested in having the person 
necessarily stop the drugs.  They're interested in having the person live a 
useful life and not cause problems for other folks.

Cuomo: (VO) So now you've seen Holland's alternative drug policy.  It would 
seem that while American-style enforcement may be overly harsh and 
sometimes unproductive, our trip to Holland shows that tolerance alone 
doesn't work, either.  A better solution might borrow from both approaches: 
American-style enforcement to deter hard drug selling coupled with 
Dutch-style compassion; treating addicts as sick people, not bad 
people.  One thing's for sure: with a problem as serious as drugs, it's 
definitely worth a try.

John Quinones, host:  Although the Bush administration is still formulating 
its drug policy, indications are that we won't be moving toward the Dutch 
model anytime soon. President Bush, himself, is on record opposing the 
legalization of marijuana.

Now, here are the results of our interactive survey, including the 
responses you posted during this program.  Do you think marijuana should be 
legalized? We'll be right back.

TEXT: Interactive Survey


Yes 78%

No 22%

As of 10:54 PM ET

(Commercial break)
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MAP posted-by: Beth