Pubdate: Sat, 13 Sep 2008
Source: Sioux City Journal (IA)
Copyright: 2008 Sioux City Journal
Author: Nick Hytrek
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Drug Education)


VERMILLION, S.D. -- So your college-age daughter comes home and tells 
you that in order to learn more about drug culture and policies, 
she's going to Europe to spend a few days in Amsterdam.

Yes, that Amsterdam. The one that's famous worldwide for its 
red-light district and coffee shops in which you can order various 
types of marijuana off a menu much the way you can order different 
cuts of beef in an American steakhouse.

And remember, your kid is still in college and heading over there 
with a group of other students. You've seen the Cheech and Chong 
movies. You're no dummy.

"I got a lot of jokes," Ashley Lilleholm said.

But it was serious stuff. The University of South Dakota counseling 
and psychology graduate student and other students shrugged off the 
snickers about going to Amsterdam to experiment rather than to 
observe the city's open drug culture. Lilleholm, who studied alcohol 
and drug studies as an undergrad, realized there are many ways to 
regulate drug use and treat abuse.

"If people could act responsible (in America) like they do over 
there, it's not such a bad thing," said Lilleholm, a Denison, Iowa, 
native whose family has moved to Sioux Falls.

Lilleholm was one of 19 to make the trip. There were students, 
professors and others from the community on the weeklong trip to 
Amsterdam and Paris in June.

"One of the students said this is something you'd never learn in a 
classroom," said Diane Sevening, an assistant professor in USD's 
Alcohol and Drug Studies Department. She's taught about drug and 
alcohol addiction for almost 25 years. Having been to Amsterdam 
before, she thought it would be good for students to earn some 
college credit by learning how another country deals with drugs.

It definitely was an eye-opener, said Amber Lutt, a sophomore 
psychology major from Wayne, Neb.

"It was such a culture shock," Lutt said. "It's all out there. 
They're not trying to cover it up."

Marijuana isn't legal in Amsterdam. Rather, it's decriminalized. It's 
similar to Americans going into a bar to drink. In Amsterdam, they go 
into coffee shops to smoke.

"You'd think that the availability of it would make it out of 
control," Lutt said. "It was a lot more of a social thing."

No craziness. No crime. Nobody walking around stoned or drunk. At 
least not Amsterdam natives.

"I saw Americans out of control," Lilleholm said.

Which leads her to believe that such policies probably wouldn't work 
here. Make marijuana as easy to obtain as alcohol, and people are 
going to overindulge. But both students saw some things from which 
American policymakers could learn. They learned about treatment 
programs that, rather than make users stop cold turkey, wean them off 
their habit and at the same time provide alternatives to their risky 
behavior. The police, health officials and treatment providers work 
closely together, supporting one another in the effort to help 
addicts rather than treat them like criminals.

Lilleholm would like to see some of those strategies incorporated 
into American attitudes toward drugs. Educate children on the harm 
they can do rather than just tell them to say no. When kids are 
caught experimenting with marijuana, don't kick them out of school 
and ban them from extracurricular activities. Keep them in school, 
keep them busy so they have positive influences around them rather 
than sitting at home with extra time to get into trouble.

"It's not legal, so you have to take action. But we need to 
understand there's different ways to take action," said Lilleholm, 
who hopes to be a school counselor.

Lutt and Lilleholm realize that incorporating some of Amsterdam's 
policies pertaining to marijuana are probably a pipe dream.

But maybe, at the very least, they're worth researching. Anything to 
keep an addict's life from disappearing in a puff of smoke.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom