The Mayor of Amsterdam wants to legalize and regulate the sale, possession and use of cocaine.
In an interview with Dutch newspaper Financieele Dagblad, Mayor Femke Halsema very strongly voiced her opinion on drug prohibition and how the decriminalization and legal sale of drugs like cocaine would take power away from organized crime groups who threaten the safety and stability of Amsterdam.
“We have handed the market to unscrupulous criminals. They earn billions. And in the meantime, the war on drugs is disrupting entire countries, causing countless victims and strengthening the criminal business model,” Mayor Halsema said.
Indeed Dutch Customs has recently released a report which supported the notion that organized crime surrounding cocaine trafficking is on the rise in Europe. Dutch Customs seized over 60,000 kilograms of cocaine in 2023 and 51,000 kilograms in 2022. Mayor Halsema has arranged a public debate on the matter which has been scheduled for January 26 in Amsterdam.
Cocaine seizures around Europe have followed the same trend with hundreds of metric tonnes seized around the EU year after year. Many reports have attested that the average price of European cocaine has been cut almost in half and the UN reported in March of last year that cocaine production was at an all time high.
“Let us conclude that hundreds of years of discouragement and repression have achieved very little,” Halsema said to Financieele Dagblad. “Apparently people have a need for stimulants. There is a market for that.”
Mayor Halsema has been a vocal advocate for change in the City of Amsterdam since her appointment to the role in 2018. She wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian earlier this month in which she expressed that the Netherlands risks becoming a narco-state if steps are not taken to reign in organized crime.
“The widespread use of drugs is integrated into society. The market is enormous. But there are risks to public health and then you should not leave the market to criminals,” Mayor Halsema said to Financieele Dagblad. “Abusing drugs can have serious consequences. But often the risks are exaggerated. Cocaine, for example, is less harmful than alcohol. People make their own choices.”
Mayor Halsema also told Bloomberg in July of 2022 that she would be taking steps to cut back on problematic forms of tourism post-COVID. She intimated that Amsterdam needed to pull back from the reputation it has garnered as a sort of safe haven for ne’er do wells who came to her city to take a “vacation from morals.”
“In Amsterdam, there’s a state of mind of tolerance. We always argue that cannabis should be legalized and prostitution shouldn’t be criminalized. That is also a part of Amsterdam’s history, a history that we’re very proud of,” Mayor Halsema said to Bloomberg. “But drug culture and prostitution have been internationally commercialized. That is not the way it was intended. We should correct the way we advertised the city in the last 15 years.”
This may seem a bit disconnected for a Mayor advocating for legal cocaine sales but from a harm reduction perspective, it makes sense. Mayor Halsema likened it to Amsterdam’s famous red light district which from her perspective is there to provide safety and security to sex workers who, as she puts it, will always be there to serve customers so long as there is a demand for sex work.
The same can be said of cocaine sales. A 2023 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that cocaine was the second most commonly abused drug in Europe next to cannabis and cocaine seizures in major seaports around the continent have consistently risen every year since 2016. A survey found that almost 2.3 million Europeans between the ages of 15 and 34 had used cocaine in the preceding year.
These record increases in use and trafficking led Switzerland to recently open discussions to consider the launch of a pilot program for adult-use recreational cocaine sales in their capital city of Bern. Mayor Halsema appears to have followed suit by doubling down on what she considered to be a common sense approach to drug policy.
“What the Netherlands’ problems reveal is the need for a global shift in the current approach. It’s not a matter of retracting our user-centred policy, but rather advocating for international recognition that the war on drugs is counterproductive,” Mayor Halsema wrote to the Guardian. “The prohibition of drugs is enshrined in international treaties that limit the space for national drug policies, meaning we will have to forge new international alliances that prioritise health and safety over punitive measures.”