Professor David Nutt, a former government advisor on drugs, told MPs that he believes alcohol consumption would fall by as much as 25% if Dutch-style cannabis “coffee shops” are introduced in the UK. But, based on our own experiences in the field of addiction treatment, and the experiences of therapists and doctors in our Dutch clinics, we disagree with David Nutt and here’s why:
Increased strength of cannabis & hidden harm
I spoke to Ed Zuiderwijk, Therapy Team Leader at Castle Craig’s clinic in The Hague, the Netherlands. He told me: “In Holland we deal with the effects of an enormous cannabis problem every day. The concentration of THC in cannabis has gone up to 15%. You can call it a typical hard drug. In the Netherlands, the government are planning to reclass
ify high-potency cannabis as a hard drug due to evidence of the risk for public health.”
He told me that the effects of cannabis can seem less harmful than alcohol, but “the problem is the hidden harm it causes: there is a risk of psychoses, cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The biggest problem that cannabis causes is the development of organised criminal activities in growing and selling. We even see more young people with apathy, inactivity and decreased concentration (so-called ‘Amotivational Syndrome’) related to heavy cannabis use over a long period.”
Rise in organised crime
David Nutt states that decriminalisation would decrease the costs of policing – alcohol abuse costs the taxpayer £6bn a year whereas policing cannabis costs £500m. But once legalised would cannabis still remain cheap and easy to regulate and police? Regulating the cannabis market in the Netherlands has led to an increase in organised criminality and violent crime which engages in the production of and trade in drugs.
“Nuisance and drug-related crime place a heavy burden on local authorities, while criminal organisations have found their way to the big money to be made from international drug trafficking.” – Letter to ministers Letter outlining drugs policy September 11 2009.
“Focussing on cannabis, it is clear that the condoning policy has given international organized crime a firm foothold in Dutch society.” – Journal of Global Drug Policy & Practice.
Harder drugs easily available
Ed Zuiderwijk, our Therapy Team Leader at Castle Craig Netherlands, says that “coffee shops cause a lot of trouble for the neighbourhood they are established in because they attract criminals. Although there is an age limit of 18, we find that drugs are being shared with under-aged children. From our experience we can tell that it is not unusual for hard drugs, like cocaine, heroin and Amphetamines and MDMA, to be sold in coffee shops.”
Dr Sonja van Heumen, our Care Coordinator in The Hague, adds: “what David Nutt says isn’t true. We know that the coffee shops are a gateway to hard drugs for many people.”
Ed leaves us with this idea: “This discussion will go on for a while. But the facts remain: availability always encourages drugs use and people like David Nutt could do more for society by trying to prevent young people getting curious about drugs, rather than starting them on a slippery slope to dependency.”