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Exposing Marijuana Myths

Marijuana Myths, Claim No. 14

CLAIM #14:


While American critics of marijuana prohibition often point to the Netherlands as a model for an alternative policy, prohibition's supporters claim that country's permissiveness has had disastrous consequences, including escalating rates of drug use among youth.


In 1976, following the recommendations of two national commissions, the Dutch government revised many aspects of its drug policy. While not legalizing marijuana, it adopted an "expediency principle," which directed police and prosecutors to ignore retail sale to adults as long as the circumstances of the sale do not constitute a public nuisance.

This change in policy was based on several factors, including:

  • a principle of tolerance toward alternative lifestyles
  • a finding that, compared to other illegal drugs, marijuana poses little risk to users
  • a desire to protect marijuana users from the marginalization that accompanies arrest and prosecution
  • a belief that separating the retail markets for "soft" and "hard" drugs decreases the likelihood that marijuana users will experiment with cocaine or heroin
  • Following the policy change, marijuana sales emerged openly in coffee shops, which were required to follow a set of regulations, including a ban on advertising, sale of no more than 30 grams at a time, and a minimum purchase age of 18. The sale of other drugs on the premises is strictly prohibited, and constitutes grounds for immediate closure by the police. Local officials were also authorized to create additional regulations to protect the interests of the community - for example, limiting the number of coffee shops concentrated in any one area. 87

    Since liberalization, marijuana use has increased in the Netherlands, although rates remain similar to those in neighboring European countries, and are generally lower than those in the United States.


    	ever used	past month
    1984	4.8%		2.3%
    1988	8.0		3.1
    1992	13.6		6.5
    	ever used	past month
    1985	23.6%		12.0%
    1988	17.4		6.4
    1993	11.7		4.9
    MARIJUANA USE AMONG AMERICAN YOUTH (high school seniors) 90
    	ever used	past month
    1985	54.2%		25.7%
    1988	47.2		18.0
    1993	35.3		15.5

    While marijuana use-rates have increased in the Netherlands, cocaine use-rates have not - indicating that separation of the "hard" and "soft" drug markets has prevented a "gateway effect" from developing. In 1992, about 1.5% of 12 to 18 year-olds had ever tried cocaine and only .3% had used it in the past month. 91

    Although there are some Dutch critics of that country's liberalized marijuana policy, the government's official position remains steadfastly supportive of the 1976 initiative that decriminalized possession and retail. 92


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