Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Our big event!

Our discussion with community leaders about our comparative findings is coming up THIS MONDAY!  Please plan to attend if you are in the Chicago area. Email Bethany Barratt ( with any questions!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday, March 21: Seminar with Diederik Boomsma, Christian Democratic Appeal Party

Our last day in Amsterdam!  We were off to City Hall to get the current ruling party's official take on the current drug policy. Though national politics in the Netherlands may change substantially after the June elections, the CDA (a center-right party) has been the strongest party in the country for some years now, and their official views will likely matter in any coalition government to follow. Diederik is a CDA member of the Amsterdam City council, and explained that the party's official stance toward the coffeeshops is rather disapproving. The party believes that drug use is nearly always detrimental, and that more lenient policies are only encouragin more use. For instance, he pointed to an uptick in cannabis use in the early years of the coffeeshop era (though numbers have been stable generally, and among youth, for the last several years). He drew sharp distinctions between use of alcohol, which he called a more socially accepted drug and one that can people together, and illicit drugs, which he said tended to make people more socially isolated.

The compromise struck by the current coalition between the CDA and the Social Democrats has, in fact, meant there's been little movement - no greater liberalisation of policies (eg decriminalising coffeeshops' purchasing of cannabis to sell), but on the other hand no systematic closing of coffeeshops, or prosecuting posession of small amounts for personal use.

Photos were taken, but technical difficulties have prevented them from being uploaded from a camera that appears to have given up the ghost.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday, March 19: Visit to Mainline

I can't thank Mainline enough for their generosity with their very tight staff time. This visit was one of the most profound experiences of the trip thus far. Project Manager (and ex-Marine) Jeannot Schmidt changed the way many of us view drug use and drug users. Mainline's holistic approach shifts the focus from punishing a particular behaviour to providing the means and motivation for users to reduce harm to themselves and those around them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday, March 18: Discussion with Dirk Korf, University of Amsterdam

We were pleased to have a solid two hours with one of the most-published researchers in drug policy in the Netherlands, Dirk Korf. He heard from each of the students their particular interests and then reflected on each topic in turn. It was interesting to put a face with so much of the reading we've done. (From his bio on the University website: Dr Korf is Professor by Special Appointment in Criminology, and in particular criminal policy research, in the Faculty of Law of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). His research is focused on the investigation of developments and patterns in recreational drug use and drug trafficking in the context of drug policy and from an international perspective. He is particularly fascinated by cultural aspects of modern-day society, such as the ways in which changing ethnic make-up of populations and the resulting shift in perspectives on substance use influence trends in recreational drug use. Besides his academic appointments, he was head of the Deviance and Social Control section in the Municipality of Amsterdam's Department for Research and Statistics, Director of the Amsterdam Ecumenical Centre (Amsterdams Oecumenisch Centrum), and a drug addiction fieldworker for the Rainbow Foundation in Amsterdam. In addition, Korf holds appointments as Chairman of the European Society for Social Drug Research, and Vice Chairman of the Scientific Council of the Dutch National Drugs Monitor.

Wednesday, March 17: Briefing and Tour At Amsterdam Public Health Service

We had a fantastic q and a session with the inspiring and knowledgeable Dr. Nelda de Grave, as well as a nurse and client of the heroin prescription program. They were boundlessly generous with their time and willingness to answer even the most difficult and personal of questions. We were also able to see the Service's safe injection and use areas, and to learn how the government vets participants in the methadone and heroin prescription programs. Patients must attempt methadone maintenance for five years before being eligible for heroin prescriptions. All use is closely supervised and bound by an extensive set of rules. As we were told, these are the patients that for one reason or another have been determined to be unlikely to ever successfully be weaned from heroin; therefore they are given ways to use that are safer and less likely to spread disease and crime.

Dr. de Grave told us, after years in the public health service, that 'methadone is cheap; heroin is more expensive but far cheaper than the costs of all the trouble [crime and secondary health problems] of obtaining heroin on the streets.'

The treatment center we visited was in a southeastern suburb, very different from the city centre where we are spending most of our time. There's a large immigrant population and the area has little pedestrian traffic, being far more industrial than the city centre where we have spent most of our time thus far.