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The Dutch Smoke Less Pot

Posted Nov 19 2009 10:00pm

One of those inconvenient truths.

Government drug policy experts don’t like the numbers, which is one of the reasons why you probably haven’t seen them. Among the nations of Europe, the Netherlands is famous, or infamous, for its lenient policy toward cannabis use—so it may come as a surprise to discover that Dutch adults smoke considerably less cannabis, on average, than citizens of almost any other European country.

A recent report by Reed Stevenson for Reuters highlights figures from the annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which shows the Dutch to be at the low end for marijuana usage, compared to their European counterparts. The report pegs adult marijuana usage in the Netherlands at 5.4 %. Also at the low end of the scale, along with the Netherlands, were Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria.

Leading the pack was Italy, at 14.6 %, followed closely by Spain, the Czech Republic, and France.

While cannabis use rose steady in Europe throughout the 1990s, the survey this year says that the data “point to a stabilising or even decreasing situation.” The study by the European Monitoring Centre did not include figures for countries outside Europe.

According to the Dutch government, Amsterdam is scheduled to close almost 20 per cent of its existing coffee shops—roughly 50 outlets--because of their proximity to schools. However, some local coffee shop proprietors maintain that far fewer shops, perhaps no more than 10 or 20, will actually be required to close.

What are the Dutch doing right? Are coffee shops the answer? It may be prove to be the case that cannabis coffee shops can’t be made to work everywhere—that the Dutch approach is, well, Dutch. However, the fact that it works reasonably well, if not perfectly, in the Netherlands is strong testimony on behalf of the idea of harm reduction.
Here are some excerpts from a flyer given out at some Dutch coffee shops by a group of owners known as the BCD, or Union of Cannabis Shop Owners:

--Do not smoke cannabis every day.
--There are different kinds of cannabis with different strengths, so be well informed.
--The action of alcohol and cannabis can amplify each other, so be careful when smoking and drinking at the same time.
--Do not use cannabis during pregnancy!

--Consult your doctor before using cannabis in combination with any medications you may be taking.

--Note that smoking is bad for your health anyway.
--Do not buy your drugs on the street, just look for a coffeeshop.

Customers must be over the age of 18, and in most coffee shops, as in bars and restaurants in the Netherlands and elsewhere, cigarette smoking is no longer allowed.

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