DEA Urges Dutch To Crack Down On Ecstasy Dealers
By USA Today – Wednesday August 7 2002
Copyright: USA Today
The United States’ anti-drug chief and a Dutch police commander were touring Amsterdam’s red-light district recently when a man approached the U.S. law enforcement delegation. “Ecstasy? Viagra? Cocaina?” he whispered to a Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman. The Dutch cop shrugged. DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson grimaced. Drug dealers are bold here. Drugs, especially the club drug Ecstasy, are cheap and plentiful. Dutch police mostly look the other way, preferring to focus on property crimes and public nuisances.
It’s added up to a 100 million-pill-a-year problem for the USA, where authorities have become increasingly frustrated at how the Netherlands’ laissez faire approach to drug enforcement has allowed Ecstasy labs to
The Netherlands has become the dominant supplier of the synthetic hallucinogenic drug that has exploded in popularity among U.S. teens and young adults. U.S. officials say about 80% of the 2 million Ecstasy pills flowing into the USA each week are manufactured on Dutch soil. U.S. Customs officers stationed in New York City-area airports, the most popular Ecstasy smuggling hubs, say they can make a bust every other day just by targeting passengers from flights that have passed through the Netherlands.
The percentage of teens in the USA who use Ecstasy has more than doubled since 1995, a survey last year by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America showed. In a nationwide survey of 6,937 youths ages 12-18, 12% said they had used Ecstasy, up from 5% in 1995. It ranks behind only alcohol and marijuana in teen popularity.
U.S. law enforcement officials want the Dutch to become less hospitable to Ecstasy’s manufacturers and smugglers, but they have little power to make that happen. The Netherlands is a wealthy ally that cannot be pushed into tougher drug enforcement with the promise of U.S. aid or the threat of sanctions.
Instead, U.S. officials are trying to politely persuade the Dutch to see it their way. Hutchinson, who visited the Netherlands for two days in June, hopes a more conservative Dutch parliament elected May 15 and increasing pressure from less permissive members of the European Union will prompt the Dutch to pursue dealers and manufacturers more aggressively.
The Dutch have made significant busts since creating a synthetic-drug law enforcement division in 1997. In 2000, Dutch authorities dismantled 23 Ecstasy labs, the U.S. State Department says. Dutch officials say they intend to close more Ecstasy labs with five new anti-drug squads. The Dutch parliament recently approved a five-year, $35 million program aimed at reducing the Ecstasy supply, and the Dutch justice minister has suggested a registration system for pill making machines.
U.S. officials appreciate the moves. But they say the Netherlands’ underlying tolerance of drugs undermines the crackdowns. Penalties for dealing and manufacturing drugs are not stiff enough to discourage it, they say. “They have a permissive drug policy that has a natural way of attracting those who want to engage in illegal behavior, and they have a weak law enforcement structure,” Hutchinson says.
Ecstasy is illegal in the Netherlands. The Dutch, however, regard drug use primarily as a health issue rather than as a crime problem, so they focus their efforts on preventing drug use rather than law enforcement. Licensed shops in the Netherlands sell marijuana for individual use, and the government provides free needles and clean rooms where heroin addicts can shoot up. Addicts who become a nuisance are steered toward treatment. The large-scale dealers and manufacturers who are prosecuted rarely spend more than a year or two in prison.
Dutch officials, when challenged on their priorities, refer to an insatiable U.S. demand for drugs. “What we are doing is fighting some basic rules of an economic market,” says Steven van Hoogstraten, former director of drugs policy at the Dutch Justice Ministry. Manufacturers want to smuggle drugs to the market willing to pay the highest price, he says, alluding to the USA’s black market.
An Ecstasy pill typically sells for about 50 cents wholesale and $7 retail in the Netherlands; it brings about $15 in the typical U.S. nightclub. Drug prices in the Netherlands are the lowest in Western Europe, the United Nations Office for Drug Control Policy says.
The Dutch police report that 40% of the Ecstasy they seized in 1999, about 1.5 million of 3.7 million tablets, was destined for the USA. Police data indicate that 8.1 million Ecstasy tablets seized worldwide in 2000 could be traced to the Netherlands, a State Department report says. Manufacturers in the Netherlands usually buy used pill presses from Asia, particularly India and Thailand. They import the chemicals from China, the largest producer of chemicals used to make Ecstasy. The Chinese say they produce the chemicals for making perfume, Dutch officials say. “There is no legitimate use for the chemical” in the Netherlands, says David Borah, the DEA attaché© based in The Hague. “So we know it’s being used to make Ecstasy.”
Many smugglers who bring chemicals into the Netherlands find cover at Rotterdam’s port, the world’s busiest. About 40% of the 6.5 million containers that pass through the port each year contain chemicals. Loose European borders mean that smugglers can bring the chemicals and pill presses from Eastern Europe in tractor-trailers with little risk of inspection.
Dutch customs officials X-ray 25,000 to 30,000 containers a year, less than 1% of the 6.5 million containers that pass through Rotterdam each year. They say they usually need advance intelligence and luck to find Ecstasy pills in containers the size of railroad cars.
“Try to find a bag of 10,000 pills in a 40-foot container of tomatoes,” says Kees Visscher of Dutch customs.