California’s Pot Proposal: The European Experience

California’s Pot Proposal: The European Experience


Some Europeans are expressing interest in the outcome of California's controversial Proposition 19 ballot measure Tuesday. If Californians vote to legalize marijuana, it may give a shot in the arm to pro-legalization forces in a number of European nations.

Belgium and Germany have long considered legalizing pot and a California victory would possibly inspire marijuana legalization advocates in Switzerland to try another ballot initiative in that country. Sixty-three percent of Swiss voters rejected a decriminalization proposal two years ago because they did not want their country to become a tourist destination for potheads.

Also, the Swiss wanted to avoid a plethora of relational and legal challenges that would likely ensue with neighboring countries. That's because the drug is illegal throughout Europe.

That's right, even in liberal Amsterdam. While the Dutch city has about 30 cannabis coffee shops (frequented mostly by tourists), marijuana is still illegal in the Netherlands. Dutch authorities have closed about 20 percent of them in recent years, but for the most part, they've allowed the shops to remain open without penalty.

Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese IIII and Charles Stimson, senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation recently wrote an opinion column opposing Prop 19. It appeared in newspapers across the country earlier this month.

Here's what they said about the Dutch experience:

Amsterdam shows what happens when marijuana is available, legally and in abundance. Amsterdam is one of Europe's most violent cities, and Dutch officials pin the blame on their liberal drug policies. A report by four government ministries finds that drug-related crime places a heavy burden on local authorities and that criminal organizations are increasingly muscling their way into the drug market, using it as a base for international operations.

As California debates legalization, Dutch officials are retooling their laws and shutting down marijuana dispensaries "to tackle the nuisance associated with them and manage crime risks more effectively."

Legalization hasn't helped the Dutch keep marijuana from minors either. Marijuana use is higher among children there than anywhere else in Europe. Legalization also alters social norms. More Dutch children smoke pot because the social stigma against it has dissipated. The same thing will happen in California if Prop 19 is passed next month.

Click on the player to see a video of cannabis coffee shops in Amsterdam and hear what some people there are saying about the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.

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