ATLANTA—Policymakers struggling with how best to control marijuana and other drugs could learn lessons from the Netherlands, according to Georgia State University criminologist Scott Jacques.
It is a crime to possess, cultivate, produce and transport cannabis in the Netherlands. It is also illegal for Dutch “coffeeshops,” like those in Amsterdam to sell it unless they obey government rules.
In his new book, “Grey Area,” Jacques examines Dutch drug policy with an eye for its usefulness elsewhere.
“People say coffeeshops are ‘tolerated.’ That’s not exactly true,” said Jacques, associate professor of criminal justice and criminology in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. “They are highly regulated. For example, there cannot be hard drugs or minors on the premises, or nuisance. Coffeeshops cannot advertise, nor can they have more than 500 grams of cannabis on-site or sell more than five grams to a person in a day.
“It is letting people do bad stuff so worse stuff doesn’t happen,” he said. “The thinking is, if people can buy weed at coffeeshops, they’re less likely to get into hard drugs.”
The genius in the policy, he believes, is its enforcement. At least twice a year, police make surprise inspections at every coffeeshop. Violations are punished by the shop’s closure, for either a short period or permanently.
“Personnel never know when the cops are coming, so they’re constantly trying to enforce all the rules,” he said. “Their livelihoods are at stake.”
Jacques says this policy is more effective than originally intended.
“It holds them responsible for the bad behavior of others,” he said. “Bars there, for instance, aren’t punished when minors use fake IDs to get served, or for customers using hard drugs. But coffeeshops do get punished for such things, so they do a lot more to prevent other people from misbehaving.”
Jacques coined a term to describe this process: proterrence.
“With deterrence, the government scares people out of doing something bad,” he said. “Proterrence is slightly different. The government scares people into stopping others from doing something bad. The Dutch experience teaches us that a compromise can be made with drug sellers. Basically, the government will let you make money, but only if you prevent harm by and to people in your vicinity.”
This carrot-and-stick approach applies not only to drug sellers.
“To prevent crime and disorder,” Jacques said, “we can hire more police or we can put the onus on businesses. Police are more expensive and less effective because they can’t be everywhere at once. Business owners, managers and staff are present. If they want to benefit financially, it should be their duty to prevent harm to the community.”
“Grey Area” is downloadable for free at UCL Press’s website, https://www.uclpress.co.uk/. The University of Chicago Press will distribute a paperback edition in October.
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Scott Jacques is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri, St. Louis in 2010. His research focuses on crimes against drug dealers, the offenders’ perspective, and theorizing method.