The Netherlands has become a narco-state. Two days ago, the Dutch police union concluded that the police are unable to combat organized crime. Based on interviews with 400 detectives, the union clarifies that the policy of tolerance towards the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops has created a huge market for trafficking of drugs and people. Since decades the use and possession of soft drugs is tolerated. The benefits of a liberal drug policy have often been discussed in bioethics. The Dutch lessons have been important in the moves to legalize marihuana in several states in the US. Cannabis use, but also heroin use in the Netherlands is much lower than in the US. The number of arrests and convictions for possession of illegal substances in the Netherlands is very low compared to other countries. The Dutch government spend 0.5% of the GDP on drug policy.  Approximately one quarter is used for drug prevention, treatment and care services while the rest goes to law enforcement. Coffee shops pay several hundred million euros in taxes – an amount also invested in prevention and treatment.

These are all accomplishments of a policy of tolerance that make the Dutch proud. However, the problem is crime. While the front door of coffee shops is regulated, the backdoor is not. In 2017 there are 567 coffee shops in the Netherlands (down from 729 in 2005), with 167 in Amsterdam. The owners of the shops can legally sell soft drugs. But where can they buy them? It is illegal to grow marihuana and cannabis plants. That means that current legislation forces the owners of coffee shops to rely on illegal gangs. Because of this stable market, the Netherlands has developed as the leading distributor of cannabis, heroin, and cocaine. It is also the major producer of synthetic drugs such as ecstacy and MDMA. It is estimated that coffee shops have a market share of 1 billion euros a year. While the online drug market is relatively small, the per capita revenues in the Netherlands are the highest in the world. Dutch vendors made 1 million euros in January 2016, according to a report of RAND Europe.

Now law enforcers conclude that the Netherlands has developed into a narco-state – a country with widespread production and trade in illegal substances. The illegal drug trade is penetrating legitimate institutions. It is corrupting specific sectors of society: farming, small businesses, real estate, and specific town areas. Especially crimes against vulnerable people such as the elderly are rapidly increasing. People are also giving up reporting crimes. Because the country has an excellent infrastructure, it is attractive for organized crime. But the policy of tolerance has also contributed to the growing influence of criminals. Politicians deny that there is a problem; they argue that the country is successful in fighting drug-related crime. Police officers themselves are now revealing that they are losing the battle. The ethical argument of tolerance needs revision.

1 reply
  1. Michael O.S. Afolabi
    Michael O.S. Afolabi says:

    Nice article.

    This somehow raises the importance of imagination in relation to policy formulation. Involving bioethicists who can apply an anticipatory bioethical approach in the course of policy-making may help prevent similar occurrences


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