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Cannabis Science & Policy Summit - Day 2 - Blickman


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The Battle over the Backdoor

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Cannabis Science & Policy Summit - Day 2 - Blickman

  1. 1. The Battle over the Backdoor Tom Blickman Session: What Can Be Learned from The Dutch Coffee Shop System? The Cannabis Science and Policy Summit New York City, April 17-18, 2016
  2. 2. The Battle over the Backdoor • Revolt of the mayors: Toleration: a bankrupt policy (Report Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG). Municipalities ask for a regulated backdoor and pilot projects • Disgruntled judges: discomfort among judges about political stalemate regarding the supply and storage of cannabis • Public opinion: 70% of the Dutch in favour of regulation • Draft law proposal of D66 to decriminalize licensed cultivation for coffee shops The question: either the Netherlands abolishes the coffee-shop system or it regulates the backdoor
  3. 3. Coffee-shop policy implemented by municipalities • Policy modifications in 1996 gave local municipalities the right to decide whether or not to authorise coffeeshops; they may close down or ban coffeeshops, even if these do not violate national criteria. • March 2015: 582 coffee shops tolerated in 103 of 403 municipalities (± 25%) • Most major towns have a coffeeshop (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague have 44.5% of coffeeshops) • Local “triangle” (mayor, chief prosecutor and head of police) are responsible for implementation, inspection and enforcement; city council determines license policy within national prosecution guidelines (AHOJGI) • Extra rules and regulations (mainly: 250 meters distance to schools and/or playgrounds : ± 85%) • In non-coffeeshop municipalities 41.2% of the cannabis is bought in a coffeeshop, while in coffeeshop municipalities the number is 79.5% (2005)
  4. 4. Amount of coffeeshops, municipalities and municipalities with a coffeeshop In the mid-1990s there were about 1,500 coffeeshops; in the wake of the 1996 policy change, many municipalities decided to close down all existing coffeeshops or limit their number.
  5. 5. Revolt of the mayors • Decentralization of coffee-shop policy leads to growing disparity between local and national level • Government still set on disrupting the supply chain to coffee shops: increased law enforcement against illicit cultivation, cannabis pass, residence criterion, law against preparatory acts (growshops) • Shift from a public health approach to a law enforcement and security approach; change towards a more conservative political mood in the Netherlands against “toleration” and advocating a law-and-order approach
  6. 6. Revolt of the mayors Short chronology • Motion Apostolou (2000): slim majority in the Dutch parliament adopted a motion to regulate the backdoor, which the government refused to implement. • EU Council Framework Decision on drug trafficking (2004): Dutch policy on coffeeshops and the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use is accepted, but agreement on tackling illicit cultivation of cannabis in Europe • Manifesto of Maastricht (December 2005): Maastricht mayor and parliamentarians asks for experiment with regulation of backdoor; dismissed by government and in Parliament • Task Force Organized Hemp Cultivation (September 2008): increased law enforcement against illicit cultivation; public relations campaign against “innocence” of cannabis • Cannabis summit (November 2008); 30 mayors call for licensing the growing and supply of cannabis to coffeeshops
  7. 7. Revolt of the mayors • Van de Donk committee evaluating Dutch drug policy (July 2009) suggests limited experiment with regulated supply chain for coffee shops and raise maximum amount of cannabis a coffee-shop owner can legally have in stock • Joint Regulation manifesto (December 2013) 25 Dutch local authority areas increase pressure on national government to allow experiments with regulated cannabis production (25 local plans to experiment are dismissed by Government); manifesto is now signed by 60 municipalities • Motion Oskam (May 2015): Parliament adopted a motion prohibiting local experiments with a regulated supply chain • Toleration: a bankrupt policy (Report of Association of Netherlands Municipalities – VNG – March 2016) asks for a Cannabis Act to allow a strictly regulated and transparent supply chain for coffeeshops • In 2014 the Dutch police dismantled 6,000 cannabis cultivation sites of the estimated 30,000 plantations annually
  8. 8. The End of Toleration Toleration: a bankrupt policy (Report of Association of Netherlands Municipalities - VNG) • Report not a blueprint: starting point for debate • Report extends harm reduction approach to supply side policies • Report draws the lessons learned of what went well and what went wrong with coffeeshop system: In the long-term halfway regulation (frontdoor- backdoor) does not work in an environment of a commercial cannabis market
  9. 9. The End of Toleration Toleration: a bankrupt policy (Report of Association of Netherlands Municipalities - VNG) Analysis • Toleration policy no longer suitable in current circumstances: involvement of organized crime in production and trade of cannabis makes toleration policy untenable • Toleration policy was successful for some time; now an obstacle to effectively tackling the problems • Debate reached an impasse between proponents and opponents of cannabis regulation; various levels of administration cannot be allowed to become bogged down in discussions, while organized crime profits and public health remains insufficiently protected
  10. 10. The End of Toleration Toleration: a bankrupt policy (Report of Association of Netherlands Municipalities - VNG) Analysis • Production of and trade in cannabis is causing considerable societal and administrative problems • Concerns about problematic cannabis use and the quality and composition of cannabis • Cannabis production and trade have huge undermining effect; organized crime ‘democratized’; more people participating in cannabis production (home production, tapping electricity illegally and fire risks) • Problems are urgent: if we do nothing, problems will only grow; threaten to take on unmanageable proportions
  11. 11. The End of Toleration Toleration: a bankrupt policy (Report of Association of Netherlands Municipalities - VNG) Proposals • Toleration policy halted; creating clear position for local government • Policy focused on limiting the harmful consequences for the user (health) and society (security) • Regulation offers best means tackle organized crime • Bona fide and small-scale points of sale; sanitation of coffee-shop sector • Regulation accompanied by solid repressive approach of remaining organized illegal production and trade • Limited number of experiments under national supervision to find best solution
  12. 12. Disgruntled Judges Discontent with current policies Courts / 1 Problem: the permitted on-site stock of 500 grams being far exceeded by daily sales; most coffeeshop have stashes with much more Judges are increasingly showing their unease in their sentencing, either ruling inadmissibility or issuing non-punitive sentences. In July 2014, case dismissed by an Appeal Court: the coffeeshops had co-operated with the police, the local council and the tax office, which knew and accepted that the coffeeshops had far more than the permitted amount in stock. The number of cases in which transgressors were found guilty without imposing penalties increased from 15 in 2011 to 25 in 2012, and 45 in 2013.
  13. 13. Disgruntled Judges Discontent with current policies Courts / 2 Verdict in October 2014 against growers cultivating overtly for specific coffeeshops, reporting income to tax authorities and paying electricity bills Court found the growers guilty but no punishment was applied. "Given that the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is tolerated, this means that these coffee shops must supply themselves and so cultivation must be done to satisfy these demands […] The law does not state how this supply should be done." Ruling is potentially ground breaking; might open up the back door of the coffeeshops; Supreme Court will rule on the case in the Fall of 2016.
  14. 14. Disgruntled Judges The Advocate General with the Dutch Supreme Court in 2005: “I am convinced that the future historian describing our era with regard to our difficult relationship with cannabis, will marvel at the costly stubbornness with which we, members of the judiciary, vex ourselves with an unenforceable task.”
  15. 15. Public opinion Discontent with current policies Opinion poll (June 2015): 70% of the Dutch population is in favour of regulating cannabis (61% regulation and 9% complete liberalization)
  16. 16. Public Opinion Main reasons why people prefer a system of regulated cannabis supply • Reduces public disorder of illicit cultivation sites (55%); • Cannabis cultivation no longer of interest to criminal organizations (54%); • Puts an end to the current contradictory policy (37%)
  17. 17. Arguments MoJ against regulation • Not allowed according to UN Drug Control Conventions Government commissioned report agrees, but also concluded that coffeeshops are not allowed • Most cannabis produced in Netherlands is exported (80%) Controversial research to back up that claim; range of estimated export 53 - 924 tons of cannabis (Monte Carlo simulation 206 - 549 tons)
  18. 18. Debate • The Netherlands is “ready” to regulate cultivation and supply to coffeeshops; depending on national and international political circumstances • Political stalemate has blocked decision-making; growing discontent in society • Court rulings undermine current policies • Next Government needs to take decision; draft law proposal in Parliament cannot be avoided • Move to regulation outside NL might facilitate breakthrough; not only the Americas also Europe