As most of you know, we live in Vancouver BC, land of the Rocky Mountains, beautiful parks and the capital of marijuana growing in Canada. While marijuana is technically illegal in Canada it’s widely accepted culturally. A recent report said that 64% of British Columbians want it legalized and Vancouver city police generally ignore personal possession amounts. Even still it’s big business with control of the huge profits mostly in the hands of criminal organizations that spill over into turf and gang wars, shootings and deaths. Often in the media people cite Netherlands liberal drug policy as an example of where we should head to; legalize soft drugs and keep hard drugs like crack and heroin illegal. Reduce the profits from criminal organizations, tax, control and offer support to people with problems and we reduce not only violence, but a huge cash crop that these organizations use to buy weapons, armor and other hard drugs.
So when we decided that Amsterdam was a go on our list, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a cesspool of debauchery with junkies on each corner and ruined lives like the conservatives say we’d turn into if we legalized? Or would it be a crime free utopia where children skip in the park by themselves and nobody is addicted to any drugs.
While Amsterdam is no utopian paradise, it certainly hasn’t turned to crime-ridden streets either. Smoking is limited to the coffee shops and culturally it’s frowned upon to be walking down the street with weed in hand. Much like pubs and bars that have different liquor, the coffee shops offer a wide variety of flavors to their patrons in a relaxed and controlled atmosphere. In the Red Light district I saw more people with smiles on their faces than the beaches of English Bay, less violence (none) than any weekend night on Granville Street when the bars get out (so much that there is private security in addition to the police). There were prostitutes in the windows, but what city doesn’t have the oldest profession working the streets? It seemed safer on the street in Amsterdam than many cities I’ve traveled to.
Is this entirely because of legalized marijuana? I doubt it, and it’s more of the liberal attitudes of the Dutch themselves. If you are going to smoke, let’s make it safe for you. Go somewhere where you don’t buy on the street from some sketchy guy and can relax. There’s no $20’s slyly slipped into peoples hands and people aren’t getting ripped off, which means there’s little violence. There are standards for businesses with licenses and taxes, which means the government has a revenue source to treat people who may become addicted on other drugs.
Legalization of soft drugs is working, and it looks like it’s working damn well. I’d rather a family member go into a coffee shop in Amsterdam and have an iced coffee with their joint than get sold bunk shit on East Hastings while wondering at the same time if they will be stabbed by a dirty needle.
I could go on and on about the problems of Canadian drug laws and their effects, especially in East Vancouver itself but that would be a whole different blog itself.