International criticism of Dutch drug policy regarding Ecstasy
By RNW.nl – June 2001
International criticism of Dutch drug really hit new highs again in the early 1990’s. At that time it became apparent that The Netherlands was the largest producer and exporter of ecstasy.
A couple of years earlier this new synthetic drug appeared in Europe and the United States and took youth culture by storm. It comes in the shape of a pill and after taking the right dose users feel a sense of euphoria, emotional closeness to others and are overwhelmed with positive feelings and extreme relaxation (hence the nickname ‘hug drug’). It also has a stimulant effect. On the crest of the wave of house parties and so-called raves ecstasy became a household name for partygoers everywhere, who danced all night long on a couple of pills. It is not a drug suitable for everyday use and the majority of users limits taking ecstasy to weekends. Unlike amphetamine it is not physically addictive.
Ecstasy was classed as a hard drug in The Netherlands in 1988, but proved to be very easy to produce in illegal laboratories. Soon the market was flooded with pills that contained impure or addictive substances or were outright fakes. Sometimes caffeine is used to substitute the real thing, MDMA, but also related substances like MDA, MDBD, MDEA or amphetamine. In a typically Dutch move provisions were made so that partygoers could have their pills tested on purity before taking them. That measure was criticised as it seemed to condone the use of ecstasy, but it is the logical consequence of the principles of Dutch drug policy (to reduce potential harm to users). However, as acid-house, raves and techno music seem to be a fading trend, the use of ecstasy may very well be past its highpoint.
France, Britain and Germany all complained that they were flooded with ecstasy from The Netherlands. So why did The Netherlands become such a large producer of ecstasy? The answer should be found in a combination of factors: the tolerant drug policy, relatively low prison sentences and The Netherlands’ geographical position and traditional dominant role in transport and distribution. The pills are easy and relatively cheap to make. All it takes is a couple of vats of chemicals, an industrial foodmixer, a machine to stamp tablets and the ‘lab’ is there. A small investment, but with an enormous potential for vast profits.
In 1996 the Dutch government made clamping down on the production and trafficking of ecstasy a priority. A special interregional police unit was set up, the Synthetic Drugs Unit (USD). Since then, dozens of ecstasy labs have been busted, but as the investment is small, new ones spring up very quickly.