Stadswietkwekerij by mattsteinglass
February 25, 2009, 9:12 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Kevin Drum objects to Mark Kleiman’s proposal to decriminalize marijuana without fully legalizing it:

I’m always dubious of proposals that rely on law enforcement to “mostly ignore” technical violations of a law, since that’s an open invitation for them to abuse their discretion.  So I’d prefer to legalize commercial operations. But practically speaking, is there some way to open up commercial cannabis sales but limit their operations to a fairly small size?

I’m sure Kevin already knows that the Dutch system is designed to do exactly this. Possession of 5 grams or less of cannabis is not a criminal offense. Dutch “coffee shops” can sell cannabis products in quantities of 5 grams or less, but are not allowed to advertise. (US First Amendment law probably permits such regulation as well, since advertising restrictions are widely applied to the tobacco and alcohol industries.) To prevent industrial-scale cultivation and distribution, it is illegal for coffee shops to buy cannabis, since this would involve transactions greater than 5 grams. The original theory was to force them to grow their own. In practice however most coffee shops do buy their stuff wholesale, creating a somewhat incoherent and untenable situation. In response, in mid-2008 the association of Dutch city mayors convened a wiettop, or “weed summit”, at which the very smart and pragmatic mayor of Eindhoven, Rob van Gijzel, volunteered to start the first state-run and -regulated stadswietkwekerij, or “government weed nursery”. I assume the actual growing of the weed will be done by private entrepreneurs, but it will take place under a government roof so intensity and quantity can be regulated.

The main overall problem with the Dutch gedoogbeleid, or “toleration policy”, with regard to the drug war, is the problem of drug tourism. Because Dutch policies are out of step with those in Germany, Belgium, France and Britain, lots of drug tourists, mainly young, stupid and male, pour into Dutch cities to make trouble. The state balances its tolerant drug policies with public health programs for its population — safe drug use education, etc. — but those policies don’t catch the German 19-year-old boys on a weekend ecstasy and pot binge. If a single US state were to implement similar policies, especially a small state, it would encounter similar problems. If the US implemented them on national scale, it would encounter no such problems; the US is huge.

Finally, I’d like to comment on Kevin’s anxiety about “an open invitation for [law enforcement] to abuse their discretion.” Public servants need to have some room to operate. And indeed, they do — prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding whether to bring charges, police have wide discretion in deciding what to investigate and where and how to enforce the law, etc. It’s true that having rules that are widely expected to be ignored breeds contempt for the law and selective enforcement encourages corruption. But the fact is that we essentially have exactly this kind of system right now — police do not in practice spend almost any time enforcing drug laws against consumers of drugs, because that would be impossible, precisely because current law criminalizes too much normal behavior. Moving towards the Dutch or Australian system of moderate decriminalization while still barring large-scale commercial operations would reduce corruption and arbitrariness, not increase it. And citizens are going to have to have some moderate level of trust and confidence in the police not to abuse their authority.


14 Comments so far
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“German 19-year-old boys on a weekend ecstasy and pot binge”.

Question – what kind of damage would these guys do that they couldn’t do at home drinking good beer?

Comment by Byrd

“what kind of damage would these guys do that they couldn’t do at home drinking good beer?”

For one thing, they waste perfectly good ecstasy and pot that other people are better able to appreciate.

Comment by Francis Hwang

The problem of tourism? Since when is tourism a problem? Sure, there are perhaps additional costs associated with tourists, but on balance, they are easily a net boost to the economy. Keep the shops in specific zones, etc. if you wish to isolate the activity, but I can’t imagine anyone standing up and using tourism as a reason to avoid legalizing in a state.

Comment by noseeum

Just back from a week in Amsterdam. The costs of marijuana tourism are very low, even without considering the financial stimulus such tourists bring. People don’t get high and start fights, vandalize public property, or go looking for trouble. In fact, it’s hard to think of less troublesome tourists than those who arrive, go smoke a joint or two, and hang around listening to music and eating brownies. It’s just not an issue.

Comment by dude in hammock

dude and noseeum, the opinions that matter here are the Dutch ones, not ours. Here’s a translation from the NRC Handelsblad in October:

“The current government, made up of the Christian Democrats, Christian Union, and Labor Party, wants to take a tougher approach to the coffee shops. Coffee shops which do not obey the rules will be ‘closed without warning’, the governing accord says. Coffee shops next to schools will be closed, and those in border areas will be disfavored. Rosendaal and Bergen op Zoom took the governing accord seriously. The mayors announced Thursday they will close all eight coffee shops immediately, in order to free themselves from the burdens of coping with thousands of drug tourists. The advantages of toleration, they said, no longer outweighed the disadvantages.”

“Nu wil de huidige regering van CDA, ChristenUnie en PvdA coffeeshops juist harder aanpakken. Coffeeshops die zich niet aan de regels houden worden „zonder pardon gesloten”, staat in het regeerakkoord. Ook coffeeshops bij scholen worden gesloten en die in de grensstreek worden tegengegaan. Roosendaal en Bergen op Zoom namen het regeerakkoord serieus. De burgemeesters kondigden donderdag aan alle acht coffeeshops ineens te sluiten, om van de overlast van de duizenden drugstoeristen af te zijn. De voordelen van gedogen, zeiden ze, wogen niet meer op tegen de nadelen.”

Comment by mattsteinglass

While the Dutch opinions you cite certainly matter, they’re not the only opinions that do. We could all find various Dutch opinions in line with our own, of course. Your point in the original piece was right on the money, that the towns near the German border are suffering disproportionately from the weekend yahoos who drive over just to party (same thing happened between states with drinking laws of 18 vs. 21 before they were standardized). Still, I’ll stick with my assertion that as far as mind-altering substances go, THC leads to far fewer law-related problems (as well as health-related) than just about anything else.

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Comment by Dude in Hammock

Matt, you can do better than that. Of course you can find some anecdote about the problems, but how about a spreadsheet of tax revenues? I’m sure you can find plenty of positive anecdotes if you look.

Why don’t you ask the head of the Amsterdam airport or train station what he thinks?

As I mentioned, perhaps they’ve done a poor job of creating pot districts, but to just simply throw the entire concept out the window out of fear of tourists just does not hold any water whatsoever.

There are plenty of intelligent ways to deal with tourism problems. And all tourists cause problems.

You think it’s a cake walk having a Super Bowl or the Olympics come to town? The locals hate it. And yet every city kills for it because of the revenue.

There’s nothing unique about a pot tourist. They come. They fill up your bars and frequent stores that locals hate. They get drunk and pee on your lawns, just like the non drinkers do. Try checking out a UEFA Cup Championship and see what kind of damage a bunch of European drunks do.

There are pluses and minuses, but on balance, every city does whatever it can to get more tourists, not less.

Comment by noseeum

“non-smokers” that is…

Comment by noseeum

Given the physiology of metabolizing beer vs. pot, I’d wager you get a lot more lawn-pissing with UEFA than with pot tourism!

Comment by Dude in Hammock

noseeum, you are welcome to make such an argument to the Dutch citizenry. Perhaps you will convince them that they are all wrong, despite the fact that they live there and you don’t. The resentment occasioned by drug tourism is not a matter of a couple of incidents I pulled from the paper; it is a legitimate political phenomenon on the part of a substantial portion of the Duth electorate. You cannot airily wave their interests away; it is after all their country. What I was saying was that the annoyance occasioned by drug tourists in the Netherlands is a real phenomenon which causes political rejection on the part of Dutch citizens. The Dutch term is “overlast” — all the associated problems, suffering and irritation caused by a phenomenon, an everyday word which contains within itself the entire concept of “negative externalities”.

You and Dude in Hammock are both drug tourists. As such you have a particular point of view. And that’s fine. I’m sure you didn’t cause much trouble during your stays in Amsterdam. But you can’t just wave away the actual political reaction provoked in the Netherlands by 30 years of gedoogbeleid. I am a strong supporter of Dutch marijuana laws and think they are a model that should be adopted in the US. But to simply pretend that no one in a community will mind if their neighborhood is transformed into Amsterdam’s Red Light District is silly. When you adopt tolerant drug policies along Dutch lines you must give thought to harmonizing policies with neighboring regions or you will have real social problems and, as a result, difficulty maintaining political support for tolerant policies. The idea that a libertarian approach to drug regulation can be adopted and all the conflicts surrounding the issue of marijuana use will simply disappear in a puff of smoke is immature. Take the downsides of the policies you support seriously, and you will do a better job of convincing people you know what you’re talking about. I believe in a mixed tolerant approach to marijuana decriminalization even though I acknowledge the potential difficulties and realize that political solutions need to be negotiated to minimize negative externalities.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Hold on. Why would you assume that I (or noseeum)am a “drug tourist?” Is my disagreeing (even slightly) with you justification for your jumping to such a conclusion?

You suggest it’s “immature” to take a simplistic view of these matters while doing so yourself.

For the record, I’m anything but a “drug tourist.” I’ve lived in Europe for over 20 years, am nearly 50 years old, have many friends in Holland, and consume far more beer than anything else on my visits there. Not that any of this is relevant to this discussion, mind you.

The Red Light District existed long before Holland relaxed their laws on soft drugs, as I’m sure you know. Prostitution is another issue entirely, and conflating every aspect of Dutch tolerance into one confused argument doesn’t advance your case.

You write, “You are welcome to make such an argument to the Dutch citizenry. Perhaps you will convince them that they are all wrong, despite the fact that they live there and you don’t.” So now ALL the Dutch agree with you? Please.

Before lecturing your readers on how to make arguments and sound credible, you might want to take a look at your own assumptions and tone.

Comment by Dude in Hammock

I retract the characterization of “drug tourist”; what I ought to have said was “you (like me) have been tourists or temporary residents in Holland who’ve consumed drugs there”, and that gives one a particular perspective on these problems. Obviously not all Dutch citizens “agree with me”; I am a supporter of gedoogbeleid, and what I am saying is precisely that many Dutch do NOT agree with me. And obviously they don’t agree with each other, they are in the middle of an argument. A Google search will demonstrate that a significant portion of the Dutch electorate is genuinely annoyed by drug tourism, and this is not simply some reactionary minority that’s never gone along; it is a large portion of the citizenry that feels the policies are a failure.

The Red Light District in Amsterdam occupied several square blocks in the 1950s. It now stretches clear across Damrak into outposts on Spui and the edge of the Jordaan. I find it a vaguely amusing place that has created certain inimitable social agreements I’ve never seen elsewhere in the world: I had my then 2-year-old daughter in a day care center next to the Oudekerk during the summer of 2004, and every morning and afternoon when the kids arrived and left, the local heroin boss would clear the alleyway of all dealers and customers in order to make sure things were safe for the kids, so there’d be no trouble with police or authorities. Such arrangements work to some extent. But it’s one thing to have a daycare center there and another entirely to live there, and for people who live on the Nieuwezijds and see the RLD encroaching on their formerly bourgeois canal and neighboring playground it’s not so pleasant. And the fact that the heroin dealing is being carried out by Nigerians and Rumanians doesn’t make them feel better about it. The character of their neighborhoods is being run down by people who have no stake in their society.

I’m not saying that these policies are failures. I am saying that they need to be reorganized and made to work better. There was a placid consensus in the early to mid ’90s that Dutch gedoogbeleid had solved the soft drugs problem, but this consensus fell apart by the late ’90s and no longer exists, and this is a real political problem that cannot be wished away.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Hi Matt,

You write: “What I ought to have said was “you (like me) have been tourists or temporary residents in Holland who’ve consumed drugs there”, and that gives one a particular perspective on these problems.”

Thanks, but you’re still making unfounded assumptions about me and the basis of my perspective. How do you know I’ve consumed drugs in Holland? And beyond that, what’s the basis of concluding that having done so would “give one a particular perspective on these problems?”

Should I dismiss your views on South-East Asian politics because you live in Hanoi at the moment? You know, having lived in Vietnam gives one a particular perspective on such matters….

Far from hoping to “wish away” the problems you raised in your original piece, I’d like to see reasoned, “mature” argument, free from the easy generalizations and dismissals that so often contaminate these discussions.

It’s troubling how easily you (and many others) resort to dismissing anyone who doesn’t agree with you 100%, saying things like “To simply pretend that no one in a community will mind if their neighborhood is transformed into Amsterdam’s Red Light District is silly,” when neither I nor anyone else here has suggested anything of the sort. You haven’t really responded to our rather well-intentioned comments, preferring to trash straw men arguments we didn’t make.

To wit:
– You are the only one who has claimed to know what ALL Dutch believe;
– You conflate drug laws with the Red Light district, which is a separate issue;
– You never responded to the main point both of use made, which was that all tourism has costs as well as benefits, and that people who smoke are less likely to cause problems than people who drink alcohol.
– You make unwarranted assumptions about your readers that you then use to dismiss their perspective, while simultaneously calling for more “mature,” reasoned argument.

It’s all meta- at this point, but if you really do seek reasonable discussion, I hope you’ll make a sincere attempt to understand what I’m trying to say to you (and feel free to delete this comment, as it’s more personal than for public consumption).


Comment by Dude in Hammock

Sorry I lost track of this, but I agree with Dude here. I’ve never been to Amsterdam. And I agree you’ve been essentially setting up straw men to knock down instead of actually responding to the crux of our argument.

Dude’s last post sums it all up.

There are problems with any kind of tourism and worse problems with many other kinds of tourism. What a reasonable government would do is deal with those problems, not eliminate the tourism, especially when the revenue from said tourism provides ample funds to deal with said problems.

Comment by noseeum

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