Whenever I speak with people that aren't living in the Netherlands, I get questions about the Dutch drug policy. Apparently the policy amazes people, selling and using drugs isn't always illegal over here. However people tend to think that there are no laws at all concerning drugs. As this isn't true, I decided to write an article about the Dutch drug policy.

Explanation of the Dutch drug policy

Basic principles

The Dutch government based its policy on two principles:

· First of all using drugs isn't considered a criminal activity, but a case concerning health.

· Secondly, there is a clear difference between soft drugs and hard drugs.

Furthermore the Dutch policymakers believe that when a problem cannot be solved, you should try to control it in order to reduce harm rather than trying to outlaw the problem.

The policy

The Dutch call their policy a 'gedoogbeleid'. This means a tolerance policy when translated to English. It means that using soft drugs isn't prohibited, as long as you follow the following rules:

1. When using soft drugs you need to be an adult (which means 18 years or older).

2. It is prohibited to offer soft drugs to minors, if you do so, you can expect a serious punishment.

3. You can't carry more than 5 grams of either cannabis or marihuana with you.

4. Coffee shops may not sell more than 5 grams of the previously mentioned drugs to any customer.

5. The police may collect your drugs at any time.

6. It is forbidden to cultivate more than five cannabis plants at home; however, the government doesn't check this regularly. If they check however and find out you cultivate any plant, they have to be handed in.

7. All types of hard drugs are prohibited.

Medicinal drug policy

Since September 1ste 2003, Dutch citizens are allowed to use drugs for medical purpose when these are prescribed by doctors. The use of medical cannabis is seen as a part of phytotherapy. The cannabis causes pain relief and is prescribed by doctors for many different types of illnesses. Four major cases in which they often prescribe cannabis are:

1. Chronic pain. Cannabis is often prescribed to people who suffer from cancer or had something amputated. The drug will not block the pain or take it away, but will cause relieve which enables the patient to deal with the pain in a better way.

2. Multiple Sclerose. As cannabis relaxes the muscles, people with MS react well on the drug when it's used as a medicine. The drug relaxes the muscles and therefore the amount of spasms is reduces. This means less pain for the patient.

3. Cannabis is often prescribed to people who are very nauseas due to cancer or AIDS treatment. Cannabis causes hunger and makes eating easier as it takes some pain away.

4. Gilles de la Tourette. People who live with the syndrome of Gilles de la Tourette, suffer from a tic disorder. Using cannabis influences the synapses, which reduces the amount of tics.

Cannabis is prescribed to combat many other diseases as well.

Opinions on the Dutch drug policy

Even though the majority of the Dutch agree with their policy (over 60 percent), many other countries didn't understand the policy at all. This, however, changed over the years. At the moment the legalization of the use of soft drugs remains controversial in most countries, but the use of medicinal drugs has been lauded for improving the lives of many patients. Belgium started to follow the Dutch drug policy in 2004 and Switzerland has had many debates in parliament about whether to follow the Dutch model or not.

The policy however causes a lot of friction between France and the Netherlands. Many French travel to the Netherlands in the weekends to buy drugs. Drug tourism is frequently seen in the Netherlands. Especially Amsterdam, the capital, and Maastricht, a city located near the Belgium and German border, are very popular among drug tourists. Drug tourism keeps challenging the Dutch policy as foreigners usually can't control themselves well when having the ability to use drugs in a legal way. Drugs tourism caused the Dutch government to prohibit Magic Mushrooms in 2008 after some tourist died jumping in one of Amsterdam's canals, after using them.

Facts and figures on drug use

When taking a look at the use of drugs in the EU and the accidents it causes, it is remarkable to see that the reported number of deaths linked to the use of drugs in the Netherlands as a proportion of the entire population, is lower than the EU average. Because the use of any sort of drugs is well controlled, the government is able to help 90% of help seeking addicts with detoxification programs.

Young adults in the Netherland use about as much drugs compared to peers in other European countries.

Drugs are often involved in serious forms of organized crimes.