1998 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
United States Department of State
February 26, 1999
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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-
- 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.