Liberal? Dutch Say They're Just Sensible

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, May 30, 2001.

  1. By Arthur Max, The Associated Press
    Source: Tampa Tribune

    What is it about the Dutch? They sell marijuana joints and hashish-laced ``space cakes'' in specialty shops. Prostitutes stand brazenly in skimpy lingerie under soft neon lights on display for window-shopping customers and tourists.
    And the country lets doctors kill patients wanting to die. Sex shops and dope-selling ``coffee houses'' are overtaking wooden shoes and windmills as popular images of Holland.

    In the last year, the parliament enacted laws legalizing brothels and regulating the sex trade; sanctioning gay marriages and investing those unions with full rights; and approving euthanasia conducted under strict guidelines. Now there is talk of prescribing suicide pills for the elderly.

    Some call the Dutch pioneers of progressiveness. Others wonder if they're not degenerates.

    The Vatican called the gay marriage law ``a grave attack on the family.'' Its newspaper denounced the euthanasia bill.

    Yet, while these laws attracted worldwide attention, their evolution was so gradual here that the Dutch hardly noticed when they were adopted and went into force. All were debated for decades, then carefully crafted into bills reflecting a broad consensus.

    Why is a country of 16 million people, one of the smallest in Europe, at the forefront of liberal legislation? Why did it happen in a country that embraced Calvinism, the dourest, most regimented stream of Christianity?

    The Dutch say they are as conservative as other Europeans, only more sensible about dealing with alternative lifestyles, using a pragmatism drawn from their history.

    Decriminalization gives authorities more control over activities, they say. After the country overturned a widely ignored 1912 brothel ban last year, these houses became taxpaying establishments required to give employee benefits. The law also weeds out illegal immigrants, underage girls and forced prostitution.

    Euthanasia here accounts for about 3,500 deaths a year, a rate the Dutch say is secretly matched in other countries. But the law passed in April regulates conditions under which doctors may help patients end their lives.

    Historian Han van der Horst says the Dutch follow the rule of ``the sovereignty of one's own domain'' - or live and let live.

    The Netherlands is a patchwork of minorities and subcultures, says van der Horst, author of ``The Low Sky,'' which explains the Dutch ways. ``In such a system, tolerance and respect for private lifestyles is essential, because the alternative is civil war,'' he said.

    This system, what the Dutch call ``the expediency principle,'' is a hallmark of Dutch justice. The sale of hashish and marijuana is illegal, but 850 coffee houses sell marijuana joints or 5-gram packets of hash without fear of prosecution as long as they don't sell liquor.

    Despite the availability of drugs, a 1997 study by the Center for Drugs Research at Amsterdam University said U.S. marijuana use is twice as high as in the Netherlands - 9 percent of Americans older than 12 tried it at least once that year, compared with 4.5 percent here.

    Amsterdam, Netherlands - Legalized prostitution, drug use and euthanasia are symbols of a live-and-let-live philosophy.

    Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
    Author: Arthur Max, The Associated Press
    Published: May 27, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 The Tribune Co.

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