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Rede von Justizminister Korthals in Utrecht

Closing speech by Dutch Minister of Justice, Mr. Korthals, at the cannabis conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands, December 2001

Mr Chairman,

Unfortunately I was unable to open this conference, but it is just as great an honour for me to be able to close it. During the opening session you heard Mr Van Hoogstraten formulate the aim of the conference on my behalf. Listening to your summary of the results I believe that we can say that we have succeeded in achieving our goal.

As Minister of Justice I am responsible for the appropriate and correct application of legislation, and for the efficient deployment of the means available to us. Within this framework I bear joint responsibility for drug policy. Drug policy in the Netherlands has always been characterized by intense and efficient cooperation between the healthcare sector, the police and the public administration. I believe this is the correct approach. It is the best way to combat a complex problem such as the use of drugs, and the unavoidable trade and production associated with drugs. The Netherlands’ current cannabis policy is not considered to be the ideal solution. The situation in which the consumer has been decriminalized, although the supply to the coffee shops is still prohibited, is a continual subject of discussion.

The debate we have conducted in Parliament on the subject resulted in the initiative to organize this conference. We were interested in finding out whether other countries are confronted with similar problems, and hold comparable discussions. In particular, we wished to learn how the problem is addressed in practice by municipal administrations. I am pleased to be able to conclude that the conference has answered this question in the affirmative. In fact the discussions enable me to draw four important conclusions:

1. My first conclusion is that the Netherlands is not alone in perceiving current cannabis policy to be a temporary and pragmatic solution, but ultimately a policy in need of revision. The various countries exhibit many more similarities than differences in their ideas about the drugs problem, and the associated administrative problems. More things unite us than divide us. Consequently the revision of drug policy can be a joint process. This is an important conclusion. All too often the international cannabis debate is dominated by ideological contrasts between countries, rather than from the recognition that we are confronted with a communal problem in need of a communal solution.

2. My second conclusion is that the results from the conference confirm my belief that cannabis policy needs to be given form at the location of the problems and the solutions. Cannabis policy must acquire form at city level or, if you prefer, a regional level. We, as national administrators, need to focus on this issue. It pertains to a number of practical problems that are in need of practical solutions. Above all, these must be practical solutions that can be deployed in the local situation. We must make sure that we do not impose a top-down policy that is of no use to local administrators.

3. The third conclusion refers to a remark made by the Chairman. I was particularly taken by his remark that the public, and all those involved in policy issues, have a need for an explicit and comprehensible policy. In my opinion this is the most important conclusion of all. It would appear that the Netherlands is no longer alone in thinking that cannabis policy is characterized by the great discrepancy between formal prohibition and informal acceptance. This discrepancy not only obscures the policy, but is also detrimental to the government’s authority. This situation might be acceptable in the short term; however in the long term it is absolutely untenable. And this is true both for the Netherlands, and for other countries. The need to correct this situation transcends the importance of cannabis policy. It involves an issue of fundamental importance to our legal systems. The public is entitled to legislation that is explicit and legislation that is enforced.

4. My fourth conclusion refers to the future. We are confronted with a complex situation for which we do not have a ready-made solution. Nor was the provision of an answer the intention of this conference. I consider this conference to be the first of a series, an inventory of the bottlenecks and the opinions. I intend to begin by carefully studying all the valuable information that has been presented during the past few days. I am also very interested in the results of the scientific cannabis conference to be held in February next year. This conference will be attended by the Ministers of Public Health of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, who took the initiative for its organization. Together with these Ministers I wish to review the conclusions of the Cities Conference and the scientific conference, and discuss how we can proceed further with the issue. My proposal could entail a continuation of the collaborative arrangements with these ministers. It is important to realize that there are still many questions to be answered, in particular in the fields of:

  • The practical problems confronting the police, the judiciary and the public authorities;
  • Scientific issues (the follow-up of the communal conference);
  • Legal issues, in particular the exploration of the scope offered by the current treaties;
  • And last, but not least,: in my view it is not enough to identify shortcomings and problems. The challenge confronting us is to find an answer to the question that we perceive to be the answer. What we need to develop is innovative policies. And in doing so we must not refrain from developing ideas about possible forms of regulation.

In the coming period I believe that we need to conduct a factual, scientific and innovative debate ­ and, for the time being, not a political debate. Obviously the ultimate decision as to the possible amendment of cannabis policy remains an inalienable political responsibility. However, I am convinced that during the coming period we shall need to engage in a factual and creative process, and in the development of proposals capable of practical implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that this conference is an important step forwards. I would like to thank Mrs Brouwer, Mr Opstelten and all the other speakers and persons involved in the organization of this unique conference. But, most of all, I would like to thank you for your attendance, and for your contributions. Together, you have made clear that cannabis policy is not an issue characterized by differences of opinions, but an issue of communal importance. It is indeed an issue we shall all need to address, each with his or her own responsibility, in making a contribution towards a communal solution.

original post by:
Drug Users Advocacy Group of Amsterdam (MDHG)
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