Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Your Meme on Drugs: The Netherlands, Pusher-Control, User-Help

 Approaches to Substance Use and Abuse
Punishment vs. Monitoring

The Netherlands and the United States foster different memes on substance use and abuse

A meme a contagious idea. See www.memecentral.com/; and see more books on it. Cultural ideas spread internally and globally in ways we do not understand: as by meme. Internationally, data is accumulating as to what works in managing drug use, see International Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (I-Adam) ://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/drugs/international.htm/, and we would like more information on why the Netherlands does not participate. They could help out here, in coordinating countries' policies and resources. 

The value of a meme.  A meme is useful in moving public opinion.  It is an idea that can replicate and evolve; a bit of cultural information that spreads and can be changed and adapted in the new setting; an idea or behavior pattern that is "caught" and spread by imitation. See, for example, //thedailymeme.com/what-is-a-meme/. The term originated in 1976, says the site, and more detail is there, and identification of books on the topic.

America's vs. the Netherlands' memes, reflected in their laws
  • American Meme.  Punish the users. Can't afford or have the means to get the big pushers, and they win anyway because, with all the profit in the drug business, another dealer arises. 
  • The American punitive focus against users is ineffective. A punitive approach would be more effective as to dealers, but we can't get at them.  The demand is too great, and the money too much.  This is true in other areas of human exploitation . Take prostitution:  arresting the ladies over the millennia has not changed the demand.  But if the pimps, the organizers, the forcers had been punished all that time, the result may be different.  
  • See a comparison of the United States and the Netherlands in this area at ://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/node/67/  The Netherlands separates the soft drugs, like marijuana, as an acceptable risk; from the hard drugs, the unacceptable risk.  The soft ones are available at controlled outlets, the coffee houses.
  • Our violence and incarcerations are substantially up.  Theirs are substantially down.  See the drugwarfacts chart.

The Netherlands memes - contagious ideas - took hold and are now codified as public health matters.  That is more important than punishment as to users. 

Risk allocation.  The reasoning includes that there are those acceptable risks to society, as for hash or marijuana; and then there are the unacceptable risks to society.  Unacceptable include heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, and now "fresh magic mushrooms" are on the unacceptable list. See the drugwarfacts site.

Separation of user vs. dealer.  Possessing, dealing, selling and producing are criminal.  Use is not. There are even safe-injection rooms. Go after the large-scale trade.  Not so much the little dealer. Foster the controlled setting to get the soft drugs, so the user does not have to come in contact with the hard stuff or the really bad dealers when making a purchase.  Separate environments, ideally.

User gets a safe harbor.  Offer an environment, treatment, accommodation for safety and medical needs, because the reality is that drug abuse is here.  Further meme. Cultural approaches to drug use, drug culture, and use effect management, can be structured for the common good, rather than for the satisfaction of those who like to see others punished when their behavior may well not affect the punisher otherwise. It's the idea of the thing.

Scope of resolution:  A medical-educational approach is not totally effective, either, and has its own problems, but is better than the American model. Is that so? Fewer murders, for example. It is pragmatic, and protective of those needing protection, see Drugs Policy in the Netherlands, an older piece (1997, needs updating) at ://www.ukcia.org/research/dutch.php/ It does offer analysis of the policies and Dutch culture, circumstances, and why its approach works better for it than criminalization. Dense population, urbanized, strong belief in individual rights, high value on the common good.

But can usage be contained, or does usage spread even more when available. How about kids. Is that ok, can it be incorporated into a larger culture so the rest of us can go about our  business. The Netherlands seems to be on the right track in pursuing tolerance, see ://www.amsterdam.info/drugs/.

Memes spread in friendly soil.  Educate. Education can foster memes - see ://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana/factsmyths/   Get the facts out. Keep them updated, vet everything.  So far, the facts seem to support that it is time to get the money, the profit out of exploitation, offer an environment for it, and monitor, not prohibit as to the user.

Decriminalizing drug use?  Focus on the dealer, producer?

The meme is already spreading, from California to New England. See Hartford Courant today, 10/16/07 at Op-Ed page A9. This is a reprint of a Los Angeles Times piece by Traveliste Rick Steves, Europe Wages Selective War On Drug Use. Read it at www.courant.com/news/opinion/op_ed/hc-steves1016.artoct16,0,5960624.

The Netherlands.

An illness, a condition, not a crime. Go after the dealers. Use the police for that.  Then send in the medical and educators for users and anti-drug ed. It works. Find (if your research corresponds to that of Rick Steves) no significant increase in marijuana use by young people, only a slight increase in the overall population.

It is more fruitful to focus on the hard stuff, not pot. Europe has made a choice, and put their money and minds there. Rick Steves' closing sentences - "European leaders understand that a society has a choice: Tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. They've made their choice."

Go there. Rick Steves is right.