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1998 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
United States Department of State
February 26, 1999


THE NETHERLANDS

I. Summary

The Netherlands is a key transit point for drugs entering Europe and a major producer and exporter of amphetamines and synthetic drugs. The Dutch government continues to give high priority to fighting narcotics trafficking, including the production of and trade in "ecstasy" and other designer drugs. A special synthetic drug unit, set up in 1997 to coordinate the fight against designer drugs, appears to be having success. The Netherlands works closely with the U.S. in fighting international crime, including drug trafficking and related money laundering. We disagree with aspects of Dutch domestic drug policy, particularly the toleration of "soft" drugs, and view with critical interest its extensive "harm reduction" programs. The Netherlands is active in many aspects of international law enforcement, including joint drug operations in the Caribbean. The Netherlands is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention and the 1990 Strasbourg Convention on Money Laundering and Confiscation. The Dutch are major donors to the UNDCP, members of the Dublin Group, and chair its Central European Regional Group. The Dutch are active in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and play a key role in the Caribbean Action Task Force (CFATF).

II. Status of Country

The Netherlands is located at a geographical crossroads, and has a long history as a trading and transit center. With an excellent transportation and communications infrastructure and the world's busiest seaport at the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands is a key site for drugs entering and transiting Europe. Production of amphetamines, ecstasy and other synthetic drugs is significant. The Netherlands' highly developed financial sector provides opportunities for money laundering. As a center for the international chemical industry, the Netherlands also attracts individuals trying to obtain or produce precursors used to manufacture illicit drugs.

All illicit drugs are illegal in the Netherlands. The Dutch Opium Act, however, distinguishes between "hard" drugs, deemed to have "unacceptable" risks (heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, etc.) and "soft" drugs (cannabis and cannabis products). One of the main aims of this policy is to separate the markets for drugs so users of "soft" drugs are less likely to come into contact with "hard" drugs. "Coffee shops" are permitted to sell very small amounts of cannabis, under very strict conditions, without facing prosecution. The criteria are: no sales higher than five grams per customer, no hard drug sales, no sales to people under 18, no advertising, and no nuisance. The number of "coffee shops" has dropped due to tighter restrictions recently imposed. The Director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Barry McCaffrey visited the Netherlands in July 1998 and voiced disagreement with the policy of allowing the sale of "soft" drugs.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1998

Policy Initiatives. The new Dutch coalition government, formed in August 1998, will continue a policy focus on intensified control of "coffee shops" which has led to a significant fall in their number. In Rotterdam, the number of "coffee shops" has dropped from about 200 to 62. In Amsterdam, the number has been halved in the past four years.

New legislation before parliament will close loopholes and complete the ban on all indoor cultivation of Dutch-grown marijuana ("Nederwiet").

The Dutch government continues to place strong emphasis on the fight against the production of and trade in synthetic drugs. The government's ecstasy action plan is having some success. Although the Netherlands still is Europe's largest ecstasy producer, some production is shifting to other countries.

The Minister of Health expressed deep concern about the results of research by the Leiden University Center for Human Drug Research (CHDR) demonstrating the damaging effects of ecstasy use. The research showed that ecstasy use affected memory and concentration, and can cause depression. The Minister has pledged additional funds for ecstasy research and announced a public information campaign aimed at young people.

The Dutch government plans to study possible medical uses of marijuana. In November 1998, it proposed a change in the law which, if adopted, would lead to the creation of a federal bureau to oversee the legal cultivation of marijuana. This legislative process may take from 1-2 years. In the meantime, government researchers will consider importing marijuana under license from the UK or the U.S. (NIDA).

In July 1998, the Ministry of Health announced a pilot program to investigate whether the distribution of heroin, under strict medical controls, to a limited group of chronically addicted users would improve their medical and social conditions, and reduce related public and social nuisance. Pilot programs were launched in Amsterdam and Rotterdam with a total of 50 hard-core heroin addicts, for whom all other treatment regimens had proven ineffective. Based upon a favorable initial evaluation of the pilot programs, the government has recommended an experiment to cover 750 persons. This expansion will require parliamentary approval. The International Narcotics Control Bureau (INCB) has approved the use of heroin for this experiment.

The Dutch parliament is expected to approve a bill requiring special measures to ensure that addicts who are repeat criminal offenders remain drug-free during incarceration.

Accomplishments. The Dutch offensive against production of and trade in ecstasy and other synthetic drugs appears to be having some success. The Special Synthetic Drug Unit (USD), set up to coordinate the fight against synthetic drugs, became operational in September 1997. The USD consists of police, customs, the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD), the Economic Control Service (ECD), and the Criminal Investigation and Information Service (CRI). The USD's core activities include the coordination of information flows, improvement of international legal assistance, expansion of international networks, and assistance in criminal investigations. Working relations between the DEA and the USD are excellent.

During the first six months of 1998, 36 investigations took place relating to production and wholesaling of synthetic drugs, or illegal dealings with precursors, according to a USD report. The USD rapid intervention team conducted five additional investigations. Almost 36,000 liters of toxic substances were found during the same six-month period, a significant increase from previous years.

Cultivation and Production. About 50 percent of the domestic cannabis market is Dutch-grown marijuana ("Nederwiet"). (All hemp cultivation is illegal except for agricultural purposes, such as wind barriers.) The Dutch government has given top priority to the investigation and prosecution of large-scale commercial cultivation of Nederwiet. It has doubled the criminal penalty to four years imprisonment and/or a fine of approximately $50,000. The government also introduced a bill to close loopholes and thus complete the ban on all indoor cultivation of hemp. Almost 1.5 million Nederwiet plants were confiscated in 1997, according to the Justice Ministry.

Drug Flow/Transit. The Dutch government has stepped up border controls to combat the flow of drugs. This action has resulted in a significant drop in drug trafficking through the Port of Rotterdam, where a container scanner recently became operational, according to Rotterdam Customs. After a thorough analysis of the flows of goods into and through west European ports, Customs authorities believe that the European drug market is increasingly served through east European ports. This means that more use is made of road and rail transport to smuggle drugs in and through the Netherlands.

Approximately 50 percent of hashish seized in the Netherlands entered the country from Morocco through France and Belgium. About 80 percent of the heroin seized entered the country from Germany through the "Balkan Route."

The Netherlands participates in the Pompidou Group and in the Narcotics Working Group set up in the context of the Schengen Treaty. Dutch police, justice and customs officials have close contacts with their colleagues in Belgium, France, Germany, and the UK. The Dutch Criminal Investigation and Information Service (CRI) has posted liaison officers in Thailand, Pakistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Interpol in Lyon, the Netherlands Antilles, Turkey, Poland and Spain. The Dutch also cooperate closely with DEA. EUROPOL is based in The Hague.

Domestic Programs. The Netherlands has extensive demand reduction and harm- reduction programs, reaching about 75 percent of the country's 25,000 heroin users. Since the protection of the health of drug users is a major government priority, domestic programs are designed with this priority in mind. The number of heroin addicts has stabilized in the past few years, their average age has risen to 36, and Dutch authorities assert that the number of local drug-related deaths remains the lowest in the EU. HIV infection among addicts is relatively low, according to the Dutch, who credit extensive needle exchange programs, low-threshold care facilities, personal counseling, and information campaigns. The Dutch government will create a national drug monitoring office to coordinate the large number of monitoring activities related to drugs. The office is expected to become operational in 1999.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Dutch police and prosecutors give high priority to fighting international crime, including drug trafficking and related money laundering. Dutch laws and police methods have at times impeded law enforcement efforts. In 1998, in response to controversy arising from controlled drug deliveries, the government tightened rules governing investigation methods used by police and justice, particularly in undercover operations. The use of criminals to infiltrate criminal organizations is now allowed only in very exceptional cases, after personal approval by the Justice Minister. The same applies to the use of controlled drug deliveries.

Dutch police investigative methods tend to be extremely compartmentalized and do not allow much leeway in taking on additional requests from the international law enforcement community. Police teams are forced to identify a task or organization to be investigated, commit personnel, and define a timeline for the investigation. This inflexible policy often means that new areas of inquiry must be forced artificially into the confines of existing investigations. There is no Dutch police entity dedicated to responding to international requests, which at times means that international law enforcement agencies "shop" for an investigative team to assist in a case. It is not uncommon for such demandeurs to be told that Dutch police teams have no capacity to assist.

Dutch law also does not provide for plea bargaining, thereby removing much incentive for defendants to cooperate in investigations, and impeding the ability of prosecutors to obtain evidence against leaders of criminal organizations.

The Dutch police do not have a standardized national databank of statistics on arrests for drug-related crime. According to police reports submitted to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), there were some 6,600 arrests in 1996 (latest available figures) for violations of the Opium Act, compared to 3,470 in 1995. According to the CBS, 15 percent of the total prison population in 1995 were drug offenders.

Although the Ministry of Health is the coordinating ministry for drug policy, the Ministry of Justice is responsible for law enforcement. Matters relating to local government and the police are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. At the municipal level, policy is coordinated in the tripartite consultations among the mayor, the chief public prosecutor and the chief of police.

Information sharing can be a problem. Dutch police and investigative agencies are required, for purposes of coordination, to furnish information and intelligence on criminal investigations to the Dutch national authorities (CRI). At times this process fails, resulting in two or more police entities targeting the same criminals, being unaware of the interest and activities of the others. It is unclear whether the CRI has line authority to enforce this information sharing policy.

Agreements and Treaties. The Netherlands has ratified both the 1988 UN Drug Convention and the 1990 Strasbourg Convention on Money Laundering and Confiscation. Measures to counter money laundering are being extended throughout the Kingdom. The U.S. and the Netherlands have agreements on extradition, mutual legal assistance, and asset sharing. The USG has concluded a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA) with the Dutch government. The Netherlands has enacted legislation on money laundering and controls on chemical precursors. It is a member of the UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs, the Major Donors group of the UNDCP, and participates in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Netherlands is a leading member of the Dublin Group. It actively is implementing the Schengen Agreement, the Benelux Agreement on Extradition, and the European Convention on Extradition and Mutual Assistance. The Dutch are members of various police and criminal justice working groups of the Pompidou Group.

IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. US-Dutch law enforcement cooperation is strong. The U.S. disagrees with aspects of Dutch domestic drug policy, particularly the toleration of "soft" drugs, but works closely with the Netherlands in fighting international crime, including drug trafficking and related money laundering.

The U.S. and the Netherlands have fully operational extradition and mutual legal assistance treaties. Dutch government responses to U.S. requests under these treaties or for provisional arrests are good, but can be slow owing to the lack of line authority between the Ministry of Justice (which receives the requests) and the public prosecutors and police (who are tasked with responding to the requests). At times this system requires frequent reminders to Dutch authorities of pending - and sometimes time- sensitive - requests. This problem is the subject of bilateral consultations.

The Dutch Disclosure Office (MOT) has close links with the U.S. FinCEN (Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network). A planned Memorandum of Understanding for expanded cooperation between FinCEN and the Netherlands MOT is still being negotiated. The MOT also is involved in efforts to expand cooperation between disclosure offices, particularly in the EU. The MOT participates in the Brussels and Paris meetings of the Egmont Group, which seeks to intensify cooperation worldwide between financial intelligence units.

The U.S. and the Netherlands cooperate closely on law enforcement activities throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and is working with the Kingdom to assist Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles in countering narcotics trafficking. High-level and working-level exchanges enhance information flow between U.S. and Dutch authorities and highlight areas of needed improvement in the bilateral relationship. Important exchanges during 1998 included the visit of the Director of U.S. ONDCP to the Netherlands and the visit of the Director General of the Dutch Ministry of Justice to Washington.

Multilateral Cooperation. The Netherlands is a member of the Dublin Group and chairs the Central European (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia) regional Dublin Group.

The Netherlands is a member of the Major Donors Group of the UNDCP. In 1998, the Netherlands pledged approximately $750,000 to the UNDCP.

The Road Ahead. US-Dutch bilateral cooperation is expected to remain strong. Improved methods for screening container traffic in the Port of Rotterdam will further counter narcotics efforts. The recently formed Dutch unit devoted to combating synthetic drugs such as ecstasy has made concrete progress, and more is expected. US-Dutch cooperation in countering trafficking in the Caribbean, already strong, will likely intensify. However, important differences in approaches toward "soft" drugs, as well as differing legal procedures and law enforcement structures could continue to complicate bilateral cooperation against drugs. We also will continue to view with critical interest Dutch "harm reduction" programs such as heroin distribution projects.

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