Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Is U.S.A. Drug Tourism Likely After States Drug Legalization?

• March 30, 2011 • 4:00 AM

U.S. drug laws should be loosened, argues Michael Scott Moore, but Holland — where soft drugs are not legal but are tolerated — is probably not the right model.

The attempt in California last year to legalize pot conjured wild images of stoned bus drivers, a balanced state budget, and Amsterdam-style coffeehouses from the Oregon to the Mexican border.

All three images are exaggerated, but the Amsterdam coffeehouses in particular are a cliché. They’re not quite the models for the legalization movement in the U.S., because in the Netherlands, drugs aren’t legal.

They’re tolerated.

The Dutch divide recreational drugs into categories, “soft” and “hard,” and since 1976 police have not bothered to prosecute soft-drug offenses.

Decades of trial and error have led to the fairly unique Dutch balance between irritation and tolerance that allows café owners to put hashish and pot brownies on the menu as long as they abstain from selling booze.

But cannabis cafés aren’t automatic when you loosen your drug laws. They haven’t sprung up in Portugal, for example, where drugs were decriminalized in 2001.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

European Dispatch

EUROPEAN DISPATCH
Michael Scott Moore complements his standing feature in Miller-McCune magazine with frequent posts on the policy challenges and solutions popping up on the other side of the pond.

[/class]

The idea in Portugal was to minimize addiction and control street crime, and the policies have worked, overall. But they weren’t just a mindless exercise in letting people do as they please. Decriminalizing private drug use has channeled Portuguese tax money toward healthy and productive public ends, like rehabilitating addicts, rather than a hopeless American-style drug war.

So a café owner selling pot openly in Lisbon would be shut down. Portuguese leaders from the outset wanted to avoid turning their country into a drug-tourism hotspot, and they’ve succeeded.

For Californians in the legalize-pot movement, though, drug tourism was part of the point. “Amsterdam is like our model city,” Richard Lee, the medical-marijuana mogul who sponsored Prop. 19, told NPR last year. “When I go there, I see tourists and jobs and taxes being created from the cannabis industry, and I think we can do that here.”

A Humboldt County activist, Anna Hamilton, was widely quoted after telling the local paper, “We have to embrace marijuana tourism, marijuana products and services — and marijuana has to become a part of the Humboldt County brand.” As if it weren’t already.

If revenue is the idea, then cannabis cafés make sense. The Dutch government earns hundreds of millions in annual tax revenue from its coffee shops — though not from private pot sales, since technically pot is illegal.

And it seems the notion of legalizing marijuana to boost the state’s tax income was a huge attraction for Californians in 2010. “The top reason given for voting yes on the measure, in an open-ended question, is that it would have allowed for the taxation of marijuana (29 percent),” wrote The Weed Blog late last year, citing a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. That pot is a homegrown product also helps.

However, it’s worth pointing out that Amsterdam’s pot cafés aren’t popular with a lot of Dutch people. Drug tourism overall, in fact, is about as popular with locals in Europe as Mardi Gras is with locals in New Orleans. Some indulge, but a lot of them can’t stand it.

The current, conservative Dutch government is trying to curb drug tourism by prohibiting sales of even soft drugs to people with foreign passports. “No tourist attractions. We don’t like that,” said the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, to a Dutch broadcaster last November. “The heart of the problem is crime and disturbances surrounding the sale. We have to go back to what it was meant for: local use for those who would like it.”

I happen to think anyone should smoke pot if they want to. Hemp should also be used for everything from paper to handbags and taxed accordingly. But liberal drug policies can be shaped for any purpose, and right now the movement in the United States is mercenary enough to focus on the dream of new sin-tax dollars. Europe’s famous laws were forged for other reasons.

 

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Michael Scott Moore
Michael Scott Moore was a 2006-2007 Fulbright fellow for journalism in Germany, and The Economist named his surf travelogue, "Sweetness and Blood," a book of the year in 2010. His first novel, "Too Much of Nothing," was published by Carroll & Graf in 2003, and he’s written about politics and travel for The Atlantic Monthly, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, and Spiegel Online in Berlin, where he serves as editor-at-large.

More From Michael Scott Moore

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 2 • 9:00 AM

For Memory, Curiosity Is Its Own Reward

A new study suggests a neural link between curiosity, motivation, and memory.


October 2 • 8:00 AM

Can Prisons Predict Which Inmates Will Try to Escape?

And what can they do to prevent it?


October 2 • 6:00 AM

How Do We Know Our Environmental Laws Are Working?

Ask a great white shark.


October 2 • 5:00 AM

Give Us This Day Our Daily Brands

Researchers find identifying with brand-name products reduces religiosity.


October 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Can’t Anyone Break the Women’s Marathon Record?

Paula Radcliffe set the world record in 2003. Since then? No one’s come within three minutes of her mark.


October 1 • 2:00 PM

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?

The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows. Yet the “aging out” experience of the majority is ignored by treatment providers and journalists.


October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription With Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


Follow us


For Memory, Curiosity Is Its Own Reward

A new study suggests a neural link between curiosity, motivation, and memory.

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.