War on drug tourism

As America relaxes some laws on pot, Europe gets paranoid

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Lately I've been fascinated by the remarkable disparity between the progress America seems to be making toward legalizing marijuana and — dare we say it? — all recreational drugs utilized by U.S. citizens to get high on, and on the other hand the regressive direction taken by Canada and the European Union to reverse the positive effects of well-established social policies centered on tolerance and "harm reduction" for recreational drug users

The wildly successful medical marijuana movement in America has severely altered the public perception of pot smoking in a positive way and helped pave the path to the eventuality of full legalization — because, after all, why should we all have to be sick in order to get high without risking arrest?

While things look better for legalization in America than at any time in at least 50 years, a terrible turn to the idiotic right is being taken by the government of the Netherlands — the center of sane and sensible drug policy since the 1970s — and by the European Union itself.

In a disgusting new development, the EU's top court ruled Dec. 10 that Dutch authorities can bar foreigners from cannabis cafés as a legally acceptable measure to combat "drug tourism."

A 2005 law enacted in Maastricht, a town positioned near the Belgian and German borders, prohibits local coffee shops from admitting non-Dutch patrons. In September 2006, the city's mayor shut down the Easy Going coffee shop after it admitted two EU citizens who were not residents of the Netherlands.

The proprietor, Marc Josemans, appealed the mayor's ruling on the grounds that the law mandates unequal treatment of EU citizens. But the European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg, ruled that coffee shop owners are not protected by the EU's freedom of movement and nondiscrimination principles when they are in the business of marketing cannabis.

"That restriction is justified by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance," the court said, adding that drug tourism "is a concern for the public order and health of citizens" in all EU states.

The court noted that Maastricht's 14 coffee shops attract around 10,000 visitors every day — that's 3.9 million visits a year — and 70 percent of them are not from the Netherlands, according to data provided by the city of Maastricht.

What a terrible nuisance! That's an awful lot of local business to be chasing away for the sake of what — a higher place in heaven at the final judgment? A seat at the right hand of God? Seventy black-eyed virgins? After all, there's no intelligent rationale available to the opponents of marijuana use, particularly in terms of the "health of citizens." This is a medicine!

Even in the coffee shop setting, there's a lot to be said for the medicinal qualities of smoking some good herb, enjoying the fellowship of like-minded citizens and imbibing some good music over the sound system. The uplifting effect on one's mental health alone is a benefit you can't say too much about.

What powers the drive to prohibit and punish recreational marijuana use? The mountains of public gibberish and the draconian laws drawn up and enforced by the drug-war establishment against the benign marijuana smoker attest to nothing less than some kind of religious war against people who don't worship the right gods in the correct way.

Let's say it right out: My nearly 50 years as a daily smoker of marijuana have led me to conclude that there's no public harm from marijuana use. No deaths result from marijuana use. There's no ill effect on one's health except for the possibility of weight gain from indulging the munchies. There's never been anything at all wrong with marijuana, and there never will be. It's a good thing, a gift from the gods one might say, and to persecute persons who are inclined to have a few puffs in the privacy of their own lives is simply the height of cruelty and outright meanness.

But the jackboots are marching even closer to home: Cannabis Culture reports that the Canadian Senate has passed Bill S-10, which includes mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offenses. The bill has to be approved by the House of Commons for a vote before it can be enacted into law.

If passed, Jeremiah Vandermeer writes, "S-10 will bring mandatory minimum jail sentences for marijuana offences to Canada for the first time, including six months for growing as few as five marijuana plants and 18 months for extracting hash or making pot edibles and sharing them."

A conviction for growing or dealing near a school or park increases the mandatory sentence to two years, and other "aggravating factors" can add more time. According to Vandermeer, the bill even includes life sentences for nonviolent marijuana crimes.

Liberal Sen. Tommy Banks pointed out on the Senate floor that "yes, there are circumstances that none of us would think of as trafficking in a controlled substance which are caught by this bill.

"Giving your friend a Tylenol because he or she has a headache is an offense under this bill. Growing six marijuana plants in order to have a party with your friends at graduation is an offense under this bill. No money made, just doing it for friends.

"We have to look at what the law says, and it says, among other things, that if I give Sen. Baker a Tylenol 3 because he has a headache and if we happened to be near a school, whatever that means — 'near' is not defined — that is trafficking and I can be prosecuted."

A rare bright spot on the contemporary international horizon is the rational but politically brave stance just taken by former British drugs minister Bob Ainsworth, who proposed to the House of Commons that all drugs, including heroin and cocaine, should be legalized to beat dealers and "make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children."

Before Ainsworth's speech, Nigel Morris reported in The Independent, the former Home Office minister responsible for drugs policy and former Defense Secretary who "witnessed first-hand the huge opium fields in Afghanistan that supply the West ... will argue that it is better for addicts to receive their fixes on prescription rather than relying for their supply on the international criminal gangs."

And, Morris adds, Ainsworth "will receive the backing of senior MPs of all parties who will argue that the current tough stance on drugs is counter-productive. ... As Labour Party MP Paul Flynn said: 'This could be a turning point in the failing UK war on drugs.'"

Ainsworth told The Independent that his departure from government has given him the freedom to express his view that the "war on drugs has been nothing short of a disaster. ... Prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harm to individuals, communities and entire countries.

"It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation. ... We must take the trade away from organized criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists" — and, we hasten to add, into the capable hands of our heroic community-based marijuana farmers, all over the world.

—Amsterdam, Dec. 16-17, 2010

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