Pubdate: Sat, 26 Aug 2006
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2006 The New York Times Company
Author: John Tierney
Cited: Centre for Drug Research
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Popular)



Arjan Roskam, the creator of the award-winning marijuana blend named 
"Arjan's Haze," has dozens of pictures of celebrity visitors on the 
wall of his coffee shop in Amsterdam. He's got Eminem, Lenny Kravitz, 
Alicia Keys, Mike Tyson -- but so far, unfortunately, not a single 
White House drug czar.

The czars have preferred to criticize from afar. In the past, they've 
called Dutch drug policy "an unmitigated disaster," bemoaning 
Amsterdam's "stoned zombies" and its streets cluttered with 
"junkies." Anti-pot passion has only increased in the Bush 
administration, which has made it a priority to combat marijuana.

More than half a million Americans are arrested annually for 
possessing it. The Bush administration can't even abide it being used 
for medical purposes by the terminally ill. Why risk having any of it 
fall into the hands of young people who could turn into potheads, 
crack addicts and junkies?

But if America's drug warriors came here, they would learn something 
even if they didn't sample any of the dozens of varieties of 
marijuana sold legally in specially licensed coffee shops. They could 
see that the patrons puffing on joints generally don't look any more 
zombielike than the crowd at an American bar -- or, for that matter, 
a Congressional subcommittee listening to a lecture on the evils of marijuana.

And if they talked to Peter Cohen, a Dutch researcher who has been 
studying drug use for a quarter-century, they would discover 
something even more disorienting. Even though marijuana has been 
widely available since the 1970's, enough to corrupt a couple of 
generations, the Netherlands has not succumbed to reefer madness.

The Dutch generally use drugs less than Americans do, according to 
national surveys in both countries (and these surveys might 
understate Americans' drug usage, since respondents are less likely 
to admit illegal behavior). More Americans than Dutch reported having 
tried marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Among teenagers who'd tried 
marijuana, Americans were more likely to be regular users.

In a comparison of Amsterdam with another liberal port city, San 
Francisco, Cohen and other researchers found that people in San 
Francisco were nearly twice as likely to have tried marijuana. Cohen 
isn't sure exactly what cultural and economic factors account for the 
different usage patterns in America and the Netherlands, but he's 
confident he can rule out one explanation.

"Drug policy is irrelevant," says Cohen, the former director of the 
Center for Drug Research at the University of Amsterdam. It's quite 
logical, he says, to theorize that outlawing drugs would have an 
impact, but experience shows otherwise, both in America and in some 
European countries with stricter laws than the Netherlands but no 
less drug use.

The good news about drugs, Cohen says, is that the differences among 
countries aren't all that important -- levels of addiction are 
generally low in America as well as in Europe. The bad news is that 
the occasional drug fad get hyped into a crisis that leads to bad laws.

"Prohibition does not reduce drug use, but it does have other 
impacts," he says. "It takes up an enormous amount of police time and 
generates large possibilities for criminal income."

In the Netherlands, that income goes instead to coffee-shop owners 
and to the government, which exacts heavy taxes. It also imposes 
strict regulations on what goes on in the coffee shop, including who 
can be served (no minors) and how much can be sold (five grams to a 
customer). Any unruly behavior or public disturbances can quickly 
close down a shop.

To avoid problems at the Green House, Roskam has closed-circuit 
cameras and a staff that urges novices to stick with small doses, and 
to protect their lungs by taking hits from a vaporizer. Unlike street 
buyers in America, customers know exactly what strength they're 
getting, which is especially useful for the hundreds of people with 
multiple sclerosis and other ailments who use his marijuana medicinally.

Roskam sneers at the street products in the United States, which he 
considers overpriced and badly blended. But he acknowledges there's 
one feature in the American market he can't compete with.

"Drugs are just less interesting here," he said. "One of my best 
friends here never smoked cannabis, never wanted to even try my 
products. Then when she was 32 she went to America on holiday and 
smoked for the first time. I asked her why, and she said: 'It was 
more fun over there. It was illegal.' " 
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