According to the Opium Act Directive, ‘The [new] Dutch drugs policy aims to discourage and reduce drug use, certainly in so far as it causes damage to health and to society, and to prevent and reduce the damage associated with drug use, drug production and the drugs trade’ (Stc 2011-11134).
The 1995 white paper ‘Drug policy: continuity and change’ set out the principles of the Dutch illicit drugs policy. Taking a balanced approach, it continued the distinction between ‘soft’ (List II) and ‘hard’ (List I) drugs. It outlined four major objectives: (i) to prevent drug use and to treat and rehabilitate drug users; (ii) to reduce harm to users; (iii) to diminish public nuisance caused by drug users; and (iv) to combat the production and trafficking of drugs. Since 1995, other aspects of Dutch drug policy have been elaborated in different issue-specific strategies and policy notes or letters to parliament. These have included the white paper ‘A combined effort to combat ecstasy’ (2001), the ‘Plan to combat drug trafficking at Schiphol airport’ (2002), the ‘Cannabis policy document’ (2004), the ‘Medical prescription of heroin’ (2009), the ‘Police and the Public Prosecution Office policy letter’ (2008-12 and 2012-16) targeting drugs and organised crime, and a policy view on drug prevention addressing youth and nightlife (2015).
Dutch cannabis policy has been elaborated in a series of policy letters. The ‘Letter outlining the new Dutch policy’ (2009) placed an increased emphasis on prevention and use reduction, and it amended the ‘coffee shop’ policy. The expediency principle holds that the public prosecutor has the discretionary power to refrain from prosecuting a criminal offence if this is judged to be in the public interest. This approach provides the basis for the coffee shop policy, which allows users to buy cannabis in coffee shops, preventing them from coming into contact with hard drugs. Though still a criminal offence, the sale of small quantities is condoned if shops adhere to the ‘AHOJ-G’ criteria (rules and limits on advertising, sales of ‘hard’ drugs, nuisance, the sales to under aged customers, and personal transaction size and stock limits for the coffee shop in grams).
Like other European countries, the Netherlands regularly evaluates its drug policy and specific issues using routine indicator monitoring and specific research projects. Additionally, in 2009, an external evaluation of the 1995 white paper was completed by the Trimbos Institute.
The responsibility for Dutch drug policy is shared among several ministries. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport is tasked with coordination, while the Ministry of Security and Justice is responsible for law enforcement and matters relating to local government and the police. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of some other issues, including matters relating to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and injecting drug use, on behalf of the government at the international level. Regular coordination takes place through meetings between drug policy managers at the ministries.
Focus of national drug strategy documents: illicit drugs or broader
NBYear of data 2015. Strategies with broader focus may include, for example, licit drugs and other addictions.
Dutch drugs policy aims to discourage and reduce drug use, as far as it causes damage to health and to society, and to prevent and reduce the damage associated with drug use, drug production and the drugs trade