A former head of the Dutch Police Union has claimed that restricting access to cannabis cafes will give a huge boost to the underworld as criminal dealers exploit the gap in the market.
Hans van Duijn also said senior police officers were under political pressure not to criticise the ‘wietpas’ policy, which bars foreign visitors and non-registered members from the cafes.
Speaking at a conference of pro-cannabis organisations in Woudrinchem, North Brabant, Van Duijn claimed the wietpas had had “completely the wrong effect” and would lead to “more illegal trade and more crime on the streets.”
The new restrictions are already in force in the three southernmost provinces of the Netherlands – North Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland – and are due to be extended across the rest of the country from January.
They require coffeeshops to become private clubs with a limited membership of 2000, all of whom must have registered addresses in the Netherlands.
Van Duijn said: “The wietpas has been sold on the basis that we want to keep foreign users out of our coffeeshops. Once we’ve done that the minister can say: mission accomplished. The downside is that we have far more illegal trade and crime on the streets.
“The problem is very simple. There is demand in society for a limited amount of cannabis. The figures vary from between 500,000 and 600,000 people who regularly use it. Their usage isn’t illegal, they need to get it from somewhere and they’re prepared to pay for it.
“So a market grows up because the production and trade of cannabis is forbidden. You create a criminal world on a huge scale that fights for its market with guns and weapons and is worth billions. You create enormous problems for Dutch society by banning cannabis.”
He said police were fighting an endless battle in the ‘war on drugs’ because arresting individual dealers would do nothing to stop the flow of supply and demand.
“If you go after the dealers, like in Maastricht, where they got 400-odd in a short period, that doesn’t mean 400-odd fewer dealers but 400-odd other dealers. Every dealer you catch is back on the streets in no time or somebody else has taken over their spot, because the trade goes on.”
Van Duijn said he was concerned about the silence at the top level of the police hierarchy about what he called the failures of the wietpas policy.
“The fear among senior police officials is very strong – stronger than you’d expect and stronger than anyone should wish.
“Politicians – and especially the ministers for justice and domestic affairs – have had enough of police leaders who have their own views and raise social issues in the interests of the people of this country.
“So they said: from now on everybody has to keep their mouth shut. And they have the ultimate sanction, namely that people can be removed from office.
“I think that’s bad for the ability of the police to do their job. It’s bad for the critical mass that you need in a democratic system to weigh up whether what we’re doing is sensible. That’s a particular problem with this subject.”
Van Duijn said that rather than trying to limit the number of users, the government should legalise and regulate cannabis production to take it out of the hands of criminal organisations.
“That means making it accessible, taking it off the streets and cutting out the illegal dealers. You can only do that through regulation.”