Integrated Approach
Dutch drug policy is based on three pillars. Firstly, an active prevention and care policy is seen as essential, to combat the demand for drugs and limit the damage caused to health by drug use as far as possible. Secondly, high priority is given to the fight against organised crime, to combat the supply of drugs. And thirdly, protecting citizens and maintaining public order (nuisance reduction) is deemed vitally important.
The experience the Netherlands has built up with this approach over more than 20 years has shown that the drug problem can only be tackled by adopting an approach that integrates all three pillars. This integrated approach requires co-operation between the different ministries, local authorities, health and social institutions, police and customs.
Co-operation of Ministries
Given the importance of an integrated approach, responsibility for the drug policy is borne by a number of ministries. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (VWS) is responsible for the overall co-ordination of the drug policy and more specifically for the policy on prevention and care services. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for matters falling within the scope of criminal law, the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for matters relating to local government and the police. At municipal level the drug policy is co-ordinated in the "tripartite consultations" between the mayor, the public prosecutor and the chief of police.
Key Elements of Dutch Drug Policy
The Dutch Drug policy is a typical Dutch product. It is a policy that works within the framework of our social and cultural background . The key notions in the Dutch drug policy are: realism, pragmatism, health protection and harm reduction.
Since the early seventies, Dutch drug policy has been based on the understanding that drugs are and will continuously be available in an open society and that, consequently, drug use and drug addiction are also inevitable. This understanding resulted in an active harm reduction policy, aimed primarily at reducing the risks involved in drug use, risks to the users themselves as well as to their immediate environment and to society as a whole.
From the onset, the Dutch drug policy has been a pragmatic one. Since drug use is accepted as a reality, the ideal of a drug free society has been set aside. Instead, the problem is approached in a practical manner. Goal is to keep drug use under control as much as possible, and to minimise the negative effects of drug use.
One example of the pragmatism of Dutch drug policy is the toleration of sale of small quantities of cannabis products. Separation of the markets for soft and hard drugs can be seen as a preventive measure: it creates an environment in which youngsters who experiment with cannabis are less likely to be confronted with selling and use of hard drugs.
Another pragmatic solution to a difficult subject is the allowance of pill testing in a laboratory, for a full description of the substances it contains. Even though XTC is a hard drug, health protection of the users is seen as the highest priority, and the police will not interfere with pill testing under specific circumstances.
Health Protection
Users of hard drugs are regarded as patients rather than criminals. Accordingly, a comprehensive, differentiated set of preventive measures and care facilities has been established. The judicial authorities always followed the principle that drug addicts should undergo medical treatment rather than serve a custodial sentence.
Harm Reduction
The main objective of our policy is to limit the risks associated with drug use. Not only for the drug users but also those around them and the society as a whole. This kind of risk limitation is also referrered to, in an international context , as harm reduction. The concept of harm reduction has different conotations. In the Netherlands, however it refers to our integrated approach- and has nothing to do with either permissiviness or the legalization of drugs.
Policy of Present Dutch Government
In the coalition agreement which sets out the main policy objectives which the proposed new coalition wishes to achieve, (signed May 2003), the following text about drug policy was included:
"The government intends to take strong action to deal with the production and trafficking of hard drugs, in particular ecstasy. Airline companies will be given responsibility for carrying out checks on passengers to prevent drug smugglers from using their flights. Repeated failure to detect drug smuggling will attract sanctions, including the withdrawal of landing rights. Heroin will continue to be supplied under strict medical supervision (and subject to the observance of individual treatment plans) to severely addicted users for whom no other treatment options remain. This approach will be maintained at current levels for the time being but will eventually be reviewed following an evaluation. The government will consult with municipalities with a view to reducing the number of soft drugs outlets in the vicinity of schools and in border areas".
The Ministry of Welfare Health and Sports
To prevent the use of drugs and to limit the health risks:
Policy measures:
Care for addicts:
An important target is the containment of the 300 places for heroin prescription

The Ministry of Justice
Production of and trade in XTC will be targeted.
The 1997 policy on coffeeshops has not yet lead to the desired results, given the fact that drug tourism still poses public order problems in some border areas. Also the policy to prevent coffeeshops from settling in the vicinity of schools has not been effectively implemented in all Dutch communities. The government will address these issues.
In the city Venlo, project ‘Hektor’ is being carried out. This is a multidisciplinary project between local authorities, the police, the public prosecutor and the tax agency. The project aims at ‘low tolerance’ towards drug-related public nuisance.
Important element for the EU drugs strategy is the European co-operation in the fight against XTC and other synthetic drugs.
The Ministry of Justice is participating in international bodies. After ratification of the Convention, established by the Council in accordance with article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, on Mutual Assistance in criminal matters between the Member States of the European Union, joint investigation teams can be employed.
With France experiments with parallel teams have already been carried out. In consultation with the French, it will seen whether this activity could continue in joint teams.