Netherlands a 'narco state'? Don't believe the hype

Posted on March 6th, 2018 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , .

cannabisThe Dutch police association has released a lurid report asserting that the Netherlands is becoming a "narco-state," with authorities unable to keep ahead of criminal enterprises bringing illegal drugs into the country. There have in fact been some recent cases of grisly narco-violence in the Netherlands, of the kind more commonly associated with Mexico or Colombia. The report will provide further propaganda for opponents of the Dutch gedoogbeleid (tolerance policy) toward the sale of cannabis—but a link between that and the recent violence is dubious.

The Netherlands is coming to resemble a "narco-state" where illegal drug networks operate with impunity, according to a report that the Dutch police association, the Nederlandse Politie Bond (NPB), handed in to the country's lower house of parliament, the Tweede Kamer, last month. Entitled "Noodkreet recherche!" (Help, Detective!), the report portrays a dangerously overstretched police force, and a citizenry increasingly at the mercy of criminals.

"In the last 25 years I have seen small dealers grow into large entrepreneurs with good contacts in politics and into so-called respected investors," the report quotes one detective. The NPB conducted interviews with some 400 police detectives over the past year for the report, according to the Netherlands Times.

The report claims that detectives only get to about one in five cases due to a lack of capacity. Forensic, surveillance and digital teams are reserved for violent crimes, while other cases languish. And in the meantime, "small criminals develop into wealthy entrepreneurs who establish themselves in the hospitality industry, housing market, middle class, travel agencies."

"The Netherlands fulfills many characteristics of a narco-state," the report declares. "Detectives see a parallel economy emerge.""

The report admits that official figures indicate that crime is on a downward trend—there has been a 25% drop in the number of recorded crimes over the past nine years. But it quotes officers who say many victims have stopped reporting incidents. The report asserts that 3.5 million crimes now go unregistered every year.

This will provide very convenient propaganda for the mounting backlash against the Dutch gedoogbeleid (tolerance policy) on the sale of cannabis in coffee shops, as well as the legal status of prostitution in the country.

As The Guardian notes, critics claim the policy has turned the Netherlands into a major European hub for the trafficking of drugs and people. A majority of the ecstasy taken in Europe and the US is said to originate in labs in the Netherlands, which are increasingly run by Moroccan gangs also involved in cannabis production. Rotterdam has become a major transfer point for cocaine, according to Europol. And Amsterdam’s police chief, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, claimed last month that his force now spends up to to 70% of its time attempting to combat gang-related hit-jobs, with young men were willing to carry out assassinations for as little as €3,000.
Indeed, there have been some spectacularly grisly gangland murders in the Amsterdam area, recalling some of the most gruesome incidents of narco-violence in Mexico over the past years.  In March 2016, a decapitated corpse was discovered in a burning car in Amsterdam's southeastern suburbs, with the severed head found outside a cafe near the city center.

As The Guardian reported at the time, this was said to be part of a war between two rival drug networks that had claimed at least 16 lives over the past two years in the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. The war was apparently sparked when a Dutch gang known as the Turtles stole a cocaine shipment from rivals.

You can sense battle-lines being drawn here. Dutch groups like the Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition are making headway in their effort to actually legalize the herb. This would resolve the fundamental contradiction of the Dutch model: coffee shops are allowed to sell cannabis retail, but cultivation remains illegal. CGTN America reports that this year, a group of municipal governments in the Netherlands will take part in trials to oversee cannabis production and directly supply coffee shops. The Guardian reported in December that some 30 firms are hoping for license to produce for the municipalities. The plan has the approval of the new Dutch government led by Mark Rutte—a conservative who the last time he was in power a few years ago was pushing a crackdown on the coffee houses.

So any attempt to exploit the police report to attack the tolerance policy will face an obvious retort: there's a case that greater daylight for the cannabis economy, rather than a return to intolerance, is what will undermine the narco-gangs. There is growing evidence for this from around the world. In January, a new study published in The Economic Journal found a reduction in violent crime in US states along the Mexican border over the past 20 years, and especially in those counties along the international line. The authors linked this trend to the embrace of medical marijuana programs in all these states over that period—and in the case of California, now outright legalization.

And contrary to prohibitionist assumptions, the Colorado Department of Public Health finds that cannabis use among Colorado teens has actually dropped somewhat since the state legalized in 2012. The Drug War Facts website provides statistics from the US government's own Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration comparing cannabis consumption levels in the United States and the Netherlands—and they are considerably higher in the US. This fact was brought to bear when Uruguay was preparing to legalize in 2013. The ensuing years have seen no irruption of criminal violence in the South American country, as critics had predicted. 

The roots of burgeoning narco-violence in the Netherlands are likely unrelated to the tolerance policy—except inasmuch as it doesn't go far enough.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Photo by prensa420


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