Pubdate: Thu, 23 Apr 2009
Source: Daily Evergreen, The (Washington State U, WA Edu)
Copyright: 2009 WSU Student Publications Board
Author: Chase Gunnell, The Daily Evergreen


Decriminalizing Marijuana May Work Better Than the War on Drugs

AMSTERDAM -- This isn't a column filled with cliches about Amsterdam's
infamous drug culture, nor is it an account of the greatness of
legally buying marijuana. Not wanting to add any skeletons to the
closet of a future political career, I'll leave my personal
experiences on the sidelines for this one.

But during my visit to Amsterdam, I hoped to use this column as an
inquiry into how the relaxed Dutch laws have provided a progressive
solution to the problem of drug use and trafficking. Amid America's
vastly ineffective War on Drugs, the discussion of legalizing and
taxing marijuana for revenue in several states and Mexico's bloody
drug battles spilling across our border, it's a topic the U.S. can no
longer afford to ignore.

First, a simple overview of Amsterdam's soft drug laws: For customers
who are at least 18, possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana or
hashish is decriminalized, but these products can only be consumed in
specially licensed 'coffee shops.' Unlicensed sale or trafficking of
cannabis products is prohibited. Additionally, coffee shops may only
keep a limited supply on hand at any time and cannot openly advertise
their drugs. Hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and recently,
hallucinogenic mushrooms, remain illegal and heavily punished.

Amsterdam's marijuana laws are by no means straightforward, but rooted
in the ideas that adults can decide for themselves the choices of
their own health, and that simple prohibition is not an answer to
society's woes. Instead, they have provided tangible results. And
positive results are something America's drug policy is sorely lacking.

Walk into The Bulldog, Amsterdam's first marijuana cafe, and you will
see people lighting up everywhere, at tables with friends, at the bar
with a newspaper and coffee. But you won't see marijuana advertised.
The drug menu is on the counter behind a black screen, only to be
revealed at the push of a button by those in the know.

One of the highest priorities of the country's policy on soft drugs is
to limit their visibility and nuisance to the general population. By
shepherding cannabis consumers into designated cafes and outlawing
advertising, those who choose to get high can be left to do so without
disturbing those who'd prefer to refrain.

The concept of checking IDs seems unknown in Europe. I've seen girls
who look to be 16 drinking in bars all over the continent. But upon
entering any of Amsterdam's smoking parlors, be sure to have ID ready
as patrons are regularly carded. This practice of working to prevent
minors from smoking goes hand-in-hand with another success in Dutch
drug policy - significantly lower percentages of users.

A 1999 study by the University of Amsterdam found that only 15.6
percent of Dutch people age 12 and up had tried marijuana, compared to
32.9 percent of Americans. At first glance, it wouldn't seem that
decriminalizing a drug would lead to a decline in use, but in
regulating marijuana, taxing and making it harder for minors to reach,
that's exactly what the Dutch have successfully done.

Whether you've chosen to steer clear of drugs, or you spent Monday's
4/20 as high as a kite, it's widely apparent that America's drug war
is not working. Like alcohol before it, prohibition is an utter failure.

It's time to rethink our country's marijuana policies. The demand for
the drug needs to be taken away from violent cartels and the supply
out of the hands of children. And those responsible adults who choose
to indulge should have regulated and taxed means to do so, just like
alcohol or tobacco. Immediate and outright legalization may not be the
answer, but America's marijuana laws could take some serious advice
from the Dutch. 
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