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 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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