It has been more than a century since the Dutch opium law was drafted. In the past 100 years, the discussion about drug use in the Netherlands has never disappeared. And every now and again it flares up again. These days we are again in the midst of a drug discussion, where it is primarily the moral knights who oppose recreational use. Of course, it is the fault of recreational users that there is such a thing as the drug mafia. And those blue barrels with drug waste that are dumped in the forest are for sure directly relate to that one pill that you take at a festival.

Although the debate about drug use was well underway last year, no one really pays attention to how much healthier drug use has become in our country since the introduction of the opium law. This opium law was imposed on us a little by the US and China, who both had major problems with opium addiction in their countries. In the Netherlands, all was well. Besides, we couldn’t really use the law because our opium production in the Dutch colony of Indonesia was on a roll. 

A satisfied smoker is not a troublemaker (Dutch saying)

Until the Second World War, there was little to do about drug use in the Netherlands. The opium law was there, but that was that. Morphine and cocaine were consumed a lot. But no real action was taken to prevent this use. There is a Dutch saying that applies here: a satisfied smoker is not a troublemaker.

After the Second World War, the youth began to rebel against their parents. Recreational drug use took a leap. Speed, cannabis, smoke-opium, and LSD were the favorites. In 1976 the opium law as we knew it was amended and subdivided into two lists. The list of hard drugs and the list of soft drugs. Tadaaa, the Dutch tolerance policy was born.

This was also the moment when drug policy was no longer just about combating drug crime. The focus shifted to public health. It would be time because heroin was everywhere on the streets. In the ’80s, one death a week in Amsterdam from heroïn wasn’t a surprise anymore. 

Drugs are here, let’s try not to die from them

The term “Harm reduction” was introduced. The idea was that it was a given fact that drugs are on the streets. So let’s try to make sure that fewer people die of it. Junks weren’t longer thrown in jail but a medical heroin program had to make sure they got rid of their addiction. Information campaigns were introduced to steer drug use in the right direction. And from 1996 you could even have your drugs tested right on the dance floor. In 2002, this was again banned by the government. But after a number of deaths caused by XTC, many people again felt that testing during parties and festivals should be reintroduced. Another moment when the discussion about drug use flared up at full speed. 

If we look at the mentality in the Netherlands on drug use 100 years ago and now, we have hardly made any progress. We are not shocked if someone smokes a joint or swallows a pill at a party, as long as he or she doesn’t bother anyone with the action. A satisfied smoker is not a troublemaker in 2019 either.

We use healthier and more openly

On the other hand, we started to use much healthier. Fewer people die from heroin use than in the 1980s. Because of all the information that has reached us in recent years, we know much better what we are doing when we use it. 

It has even become so normal to use drugs that we are no longer secretive about it. At a random birthday party, even your aunt admits that she has “gone crazy at a party” thanks to an XTC pill from the neighbor. The discussions about drug use that flare up occasionally will always exist and what many moralists do not realize is that it is precisely those discussions that make it more difficult to be open about drug use. The mystery actually promotes crime. Nice work guys.