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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Europe and Central Asia


I. Summary

The Dutch government continues to give priority to fighting international narcotics trafficking, including the production of and trade in ecstasy and other designer drugs. The special ecstasy action plan, which reflects the serious concern of Dutch authorities about this growing problem, appears to be increasingly effective. The Special Synthetic Drug Unit, set up to coordinate the fight against designer drugs, became operational in 1997. The Dutch government has also stepped up border controls and intensified cooperation with neighboring European countries.

The Government of The Netherlands (GON) plays an active role in the international community to combat drug trafficking. The GON 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, are members of the Dublin Group and chair its Caribbean Regional Group. The Dutch are also active in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Caribbean Action Task Force (CATF).

All drugs normally treated as illegal in other countries are illegal in The Netherlands. The Dutch Opium Act, however, distinguishes between "hard" drugs, having "unacceptable" risks (heroin, cocaine etc.), and "soft" drugs (cannabis). One of the primary goals of this policy is to separate the markets for soft and hard drugs so that soft drug users are less likely to come into contact with hard drugs. Drug abuse is seen primarily as a public health issue in The Netherlands. The Netherlands has extensive demand reduction programs, reaching about 75 percent of the country's 25,000 hard drug users. The number of hard drug addicts has stabilized in the past few years and the average age has risen to 36. The number of drug-related deaths remains the lowest in Europe.

II. Status of Country

The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated and urbanized countries in the world. It has a population of 15.5 million, occupying an area of no more than 41,526 square kilometers. The Netherlands has a long history as a transit country. Rotterdam is the largest seaport in the world, while the country's highly sophisticated transportation and financial infrastructure makes it one of the entrepots for the European narcotics market and offers opportunities for money laundering. As a major center for the international chemical industry, The Netherlands attracts individuals trying to produce precursors used to manufacture illicit drugs. The country is also a major producing and exporting site for amphetamines and "synthetic" drugs like ecstasy. The Dutch government has committed itself to fighting "the illicit use of the national infrastructure," particularly by internationally operating drug trafficking organizations. Priority has also been given to combatting production of and trade in ecstasy.

Regulations on drugs are laid down in the Dutch Opium Act of 1919, amended in 1928 and 1976. Possession, commercial distribution, production, import and export, and advertising the sale or distribution of all drugs is punishable by law. Drug use, per se, is not an offense but is rather considered a health problem.

In 1976, Dutch public prosecutors invoked the "expediency principle" in Dutch law and issued prosecution guidelines which gave top priority to prosecuting for trafficking and lower priority to prosecution for cannabis use.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. In September 1997, the government published a progress report on the main policy initiatives announced in the 1995 White Paper on Dutch drug policy, including measures to intensify the fight against production of and trade in drugs, in particular Ecstasy, and tighter controls on soft drug sales, production and possession, including the illicit cultivation of Dutch-grown hemp ("nederwiet"). The Dutch government has placed strong emphasis on the fight against the production of and trade in Ecstasy. According to the 1997 progress report, the ecstasy action plan, announced in the 1995 White Paper, appears to be successful. The staff of the Economic Control Service (ECD), which investigates the flow of chemical precursors, has been expanded from 10 to 20 persons. The Synthetic Drug Unit (USD), consisting of police, customs, the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD), ECD, and the Criminal Investigation and Information Service (CRI) has become operational as of January 1997. The USD, which is controlled by the public prosecutor in Den Bosch, has begun to coordinate information flows, improve international legal assistance, expand international networks, and assist in criminal investigations.

During the Dutch EU presidency in the first half of 1997, the Dutch Justice Minister successfully lobbied for the establishment of an early-warning system, with which member-states can inform each other rapidly about new developments with respect to synthetic drugs. The 1995 White Paper on Dutch drug policy tightened up the strict conditions under which coffeeshops are allowed to sell limited amounts of cannabis without facing prosecution. The criteria are: no advertising; no hard drug sales; no nuissance; no sales to people under 18, and no sale higher than five grams per customer. A recent study shows that, because of the tighter controls, the number of coffeeshops dropped in 1996 by 15 percent from the previous year to some 1,180. Administrative measures have been introduced to prevent and fight nuisance problems in the vicinity of coffeeshops. The separation of the markets for soft and hard drugs continues to be a key criterion when using closure authority. The law is expected to come into effect on January 1, 1998.

Border Controls. According to the 1997 Progress Report, a container scanner will become operational in Rotterdam port in 1998. The procurement procedures for a scanner at Schiphol airport have not yet been finalized. In 1997, so-called HARC (hit and run container) teams became operational in Amsterdam and Rotterdam ports and at Schiphol airport. A HARC team will also be established in Zeeland province, close to the Belgian border. The teams are engaged in the investigation of drug trafficking through cargo containers in ships and through airports.

The 1995 White Paper on Dutch drug policy announced the start of a scientific experiment to investigate whether the distribution of heroin to a limited group of hard-core addicts would improve their medical and social conditions and reduce the nuisances (crime, public health problems) caused by them. In November 1997, the Public Health Ministry announced that the first phase of the experiment will start in Amsterdam and Rotterdam in May 1998. A total of 50 addicts will be given heroin under strict medical control. A control group of about 100 persons will be given methadone only. The experiment will be evaluated in August 1998, after which the Dutch Parliament will decide whether or not to continue the experiment with 750 persons. If the results are negative, the experiment will be stopped.

Accomplishments. Relations between the Netherlands and some of its neighboring countries, in particular France, have improved significantly in the field of drug policy. In February 1997, The Netherlands and France signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which provides for intensified cooperation between customs officials of the two countries. Similar MOU's will shortly be signed with the UK and Germany. In November 1997, the Dutch and French Justice Ministers agreed to set up a joint committee of experts on drug prevention policy. Bilateral contacts between Justice, Police and Customs Departments in Belgium, the UK and Germany have also been intensified. In January 1997, a Dutch Customs attache was stationed in London. Similar attaches are already active in France and Germany.

To reduce the flow of drug "tourists" and related public nuisances, the judicial authorities of The Netherlands, Belgium and France have been working on a structural approach to the problem. In this framework, several large interdiction actions were successfully carried out in 1997.

Cultivation and Production. In recent years, the Dutch cannabis market has increasingly been supplied (about 50 percent) via the production of Dutch-grown cannabis ("nederwiet"). Hemp cultivation is allowed only for agricultural and horticultural activities and for wind barriers. The Dutch government has given top priority to the investigation and prosecution of large-scale commercial cultivation of nederwiet and doubled the criminal penalty to four years imprisonment. According to the 1997 progress report, more than 549,000 nederwiet plants were confiscated in 1995.

Police and Justice authorities have launched an offensive against the production and export of Ecstasy. In 1997, the Police and Economic Control Service (ECD) seized about 20,000 liters of raw materials used for the production of synthetic drugs, with which 150-200 million pills could have been produced. The Special Synthetic Drug Unit (USD) also started an investigation into the origin of dangerous Ecstasy pills containing atropine, which were being circulated in Dutch discos in 1997.

Drug Flow/Transit. The Dutch government takes the fight against drug trafficking very seriously. The Justice Minister has complained that large quantities of drugs enter the country because of failure of border controls by countries with whom The Netherlands shared borders. Some 50 percent of hashish seized in The Netherlands enters the country from Morocco through France and Belgium. Some 80 percent of heroin seized enters the country from Germany through the so-called Balkan route.

The Dutch Customs and the Fiscal Investigation service (FIOD) intercepted more drug transports in Dutch sea and airports in 1996 than in 1995. Total cocaine seizures by Customs in 1996 were 5,002 kilograms, up from 3,968 kilograms in 1995. Most of the cocaine still enters The Netherlands through Rotterdam port. Nationwide, Dutch customs found 307 shipments of hashish in 1996, with a weight of 6,858 kilograms (1995: 195 shipments totaling 49,559 kilograms) and 506 shipments of marijuana of 58,481 kilograms (1995: 248 shipments and 238,745 kilograms).

According to the Dutch police, about 100 criminal organizations are engaged in the drug trade in The Netherlands. Hard drug trafficking is mostly in the hands of foreign organizations, while Dutch nationals are mainly engaged in the soft drug trade.

Corruption. As a matter of policy, the Government of The Netherlands does not encourage or facilitate the illicit production or distribution of drugs, other controlled substances or the laundering of drug money.

Precursor Chemical Control. In July 1995, the law on the Prevention of Chemical Abuse came into force, bringing the precursors for synthetic drugs within the scope of a licensing system. The law meets Dutch commitments under the 1988 UN Drug Convention and under 1990 EU regulations. Violations of the law can lead to prison sentences (maximum of six years), fines (up to $50,000), or asset seizures.

Demand reduction. The Netherlands has extensive demand reduction programs and low-threshhold medical services for addicts, who are also offered drug rehabilitation programs. Authorities believe such programs reach about 75 percent of the country's 25,000 "hard" drug users. In 1995, there were 2.4 drug-related deaths per million inhabitants, reportedly the lowest in Europe. The number of hard drug addicts has stabilized and the average age of heroin addicts now stands at 36. HIV infection among addicts is relatively low, in large part because of extensive needle exchange programs.

The specialized addiction care sector consists of some 40 organizations. Out-patient care is provided by 16 Consultation Bureaus for Alcohol and Drugs (CADS), which have some 130 regional and local branches. There also are about 30 establishments for social addiction care. In-patient care is provided by 20 addiction clinics. Programs are geared to the specific problems of homeless addicts, women, ethnic minorities and prostitutes. The estimated number of addicts receiving methadone is 14,000. Programs have been set up offering criminal addicts the choice between treatment and continued imprisonment.

Prevention. Prevention plays an important role in Dutch drug policy. Schools in particular are targeted in efforts to discourage drug use, while campaigns are conducted in the mass media to reach the broader public. A 1996 campaign to counter the use of cannabis was continued in September 1997, and an Ecstasy campaign was launched in early 1997. The Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction (the Trimbos Institute) has developed projects in the field of alcohol and drugs in the context of teaching "healthy living" in classrooms. In 1995, the Trimbos Institute also set up the Drug Information Bureau, which provides information, for instance through Internet or the drug information telephone lines.

The Dutch government plans to set up a national drug monitoring office, which will coordinate the relatively large number of existing monitoring activities in the field of drugs. The new system is expected to become operational in January 1998.

Law Enforcement Efforts. 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 and Colombia, to Interpol in Lyons, to The Netherlands Antilles and to Turkey, Poland and Spain. The Dutch also cooperate closely with the DEA. The Europol Drug Unit is based in The Hague.

The Dutch police and public prosecutors give high priority to combatting organized criminal drug trafficking. Changes in legislation have expanded the scope for the detection and prosecution of drug offenses, for example the introduction of legislation, enabling the confiscation of criminal profits.

The Dutch police do not have a standard national registration system of 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 for violations of the Opium Act, compared to 3,470 in 1995. According to the CBS, 15 percent of the total prison population of more than 10,000 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 tripartite consultations between the Mayor, the Chief Public Prosecutor and the Chief of Police.

The following agencies play an important role in implementing policy: the 25 regional police forces and their special criminal information services; the National Police Services Force; the National Criminal Intelligence Division (CRI) of the National Police Services Force, which coordinates efforts to counter drug trafficking; the Customs authorities and the Customs Information Center.

Agreements and Treaties. The Netherlands is a party to 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 to include The Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. The US and The Netherlands have agreements on extradition, mutual legal assistance, and asset sharing. The Netherlands has enacted legislation on money laundering and controls on chemical precursors. The Netherlands is a member of the UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs and the Major Donors Group of the UNDCP. It participates in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Caribbean Action Task Force (CATF). The Netherlands is a leading member of the Dublin Group, chairs the regional Dublin Group for the Caribbean, and is member of the daily management of the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC). It is actively implementing the Schengen Agreement, the Benelux Agreement on Extradition, and the European Convention on Extradition and Mutual Assistance. The USG has concluded a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA) with the Government of The Netherlands. The Dutch are members of various police and criminal justice working groups of the Pompidou Group.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. The United States enjoys excellent cooperation with The Netherlands in fighting international crime, including money laundering. The Dutch Disclosure Office (MOT) has close links with FinCEN (US Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Center). The Dutch MOT submitted a draft cooperation agreement to FinCEN towards the end of 1995. Pending parliamentary approval, a Memorandum of Understanding for expanded cooperation between FinCEN and The Netherlands is expected to be signed in 1998.

The Dutch MOT is also involved in efforts to expand cooperation between disclosure offices, particularly in the EU. The MOT takes part in the Brussels and Paris meetings of the Egmont Group, which seeks to intensify cooperation between money laundering disclosure offices in the EU and also worldwide.

Adequate records can be made available officially to appropriate USG personnel through our Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with The Netherlands. US authorities cooperate closely with the Dutch CRI (Dutch Criminal Intelligence Service) and FIOD (Dutch Internal Revenue Service Investigation Office).

During the Dutch EU presidency in the first half of 1997, the Netherlands successfully lobbied for the establishment of an early warning mechanism to fight the production of synthetic drugs. In addition, the Dutch presidency focused on improving the practical cooperation between police, customs and law enforcement authorities in member states to fight narcotics trafficking and organized crime. The US worked closely with the Dutch presidency in concluding the US-EU Chemical Precursor Agreement.

The Road Ahead. The US and The Netherlands will continue to cooperate closely on law enforcement activities throughout the Kingdom of The Netherlands. The EU/RSS study on Maritime Counter-Drug Cooperation in the Caribbean, which The Netherlands carried out in close cooperation with the US, France, the UK, and the representatives from the RSS was completed in May 1997. A regional meeting (the second follow-up meeting to the Barbados conferences of 1996 and 1997) was held in December 1997 in Santo Domingo to review the progress made in the implementation of the Barbados Plan of Action. Future meetings are being scheduled to discuss the possible adoption of a multilateral agreement to enhance cooperation to suppress drug trafficking in the Caribbean.


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