Amsterdam cracks down on prostitution, cannabis: lessons for Victoria?

December 7, 2008 at 12:26 pm 4 comments

Interesting news out of the Netherlands: the government is fed up with abuse of the country’s liberal laws on prostitution, marijuana and other vices.

Amsterdam to reduce prostitution, sale of cannabis

December 6, 2008 at 8:42 AM EST

AMSTERDAM — Amsterdam authorities said on Saturday they would halve the number of brothels and marijuana shops in the city’s “red light” district and surrounding area.

The city announced plans to clean up the area a year ago and since then 109 sex “windows“, from which prostitutes attract customers, have been closed. The new measures aim to reduce the number of windows to 243 from 482 last year, a city spokesman said.

Amsterdam also wants to close half of the 76 cannabis shops in the city centre.

“Money laundering, extortion and human trafficking are things you do not see on the surface but they are hurting people and the city. We want to fight this,” deputy mayor of Amsterdam Lodewijk Asscher told Reuters./

What is the lesson for Victoria? As the City looks towards liberalizing our approach to prostitution and drugs we have to remember one important fact the Dutch are learning now. In order to keep out the criminal element, you must have more than mere decriminalization. There must be a “closed system” so all aspects of the supply/demand chain are transparent and known. There must be no opportunity for organized crime to profit from the astounding profits that stand to be made.

Is this possible? Can ending the ‘war on drugs’ really be this acheiveable? I’m open to the idea that liberalization is best for society but remain skeptical it can work while keeping out powerful organized crime elements.

Entry filed under: social issues.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yule Heibel  |  December 8, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    I saw that article, too. What follows is slightly off-topic, or rather, more of a meta-critique, but I really think the problem (especially in Canada) is so systemic that we need some serious disruption.

    Here goes…

    Permissive approaches to what we quaintly used to call “vice” don’t work if there’s a network – an entire ecosystem – of crime behind the behavior. Anyone who tells me that we should just legalize everything, and that this would get rid of the criminal element, is (imo) delusional. For one thing, what’s legal in one jurisdiction (say, Amsterdam) is not going to be universally legal everywhere (say, Afghanistan), which means you can’t get rid of the criminal element.

    Further to that, when people compare our current social problems that are caused by interdicted drugs to the organized crime problems we saw during the era of alcohol prohibition, I also think they’re totally mistaken. Why? The two substance categories are apples and oranges – nay, apples and rocks: totally different.

    Yes, alcohol can kill, it can derange people’s lives, destroy families, and turn (some) individuals into addicts (alcoholics). But it’s in no way as quickly and massively and *universally* disruptive and corrosive as cocaine, crack, crystal meth, heroin, and so forth are. Otherwise, every social drinker or everyone accustomed to drinking a glass or two of wine with their dinner would be saddled with the same problems that addicts of those other drugs have.

    Yet they aren’t. Why is that? It’s *not* because alcohol is legal while drugs aren’t. It’s because those drugs really truly are bad for you, they alter your brain chemistry, and there’s no way – except in a ritualistic, quasi-annual or seasonal Saturnalia kind of way (think Mayan ritual) – that they can be integrated into well-functioning social routines. (And, um, the Mayans mixed their rituals with heavy-duty mayhem that no one would really be cool with today…)

    So I wish people would stop with the “let’s legalize this and solve the problems that way” BS.

    What’s the answer? Everyone keeps coming back to “education”: that if we educate our kids to the dangers of these drugs, they won’t do them.

    Yet our kids are doing drugs anyway. So what’s going on? Maybe ‘education’ means a bit more than just warning people about the dangers. Maybe there has to be more authoritative parenting – note: I don’t write (or mean) authoritarian, but authoritative.

    What does that mean, from where I’m sitting? Well, a bunch of things. First off, parents should be *parents* – they should damn well pay attention. For another thing, speaking as a parent, I wouldn’t (and I didn’t) send my kids into the factory school system. Pink Floyd said it best on their album “The Wall”: you’re just another brick in the wall. Schools as they exist today are by and large set up to babysit kids, to get them out of their parents’ hair so that the parents can go to work, and they’re designed like factories, where it’s “one size fits all,” and you’re a cog in the machine. Whatever drive you have to take risks, to be creative, to pursue your own dream (unless it fits in with the system) is drummed out of you by the curricula you’re obliged to follow, with bells that go off every 50 minutes to tell you to move on, irrespective of any desire on your part to continue pursuing a subject you just got interested in. It’s modeled on the factory, and a factory it is. It’s the opposite of a system conducive to innovation and creative risk-taking.

    It’s a system that’s designed to kill whatever entrepreneurial or innovative spark you have, and it typically channels all your adolescent desire for proving yourself and for taking risks into the most inane and puerile (immature) behaviors of the peer group.

    I’ve been reading and thinking about innovation (Canada hasn’t been particularly welcoming or conducive to innovation, by the way, as we don’t celebrate risk-taking here). I’m also thinking about how the drive to innovate, to *undertake* (i.e., entrepreneurialism), and to take risks is tied to biology and age: in the Renaissance, 14-year-olds (if they were born into the right families) ran city-states (Florence, eg.) or became apprentices so that by the time they were 18 or 19 they were called “masters.” (This was true for boys. Girls’ options were extremely limited: they undertook motherhood, an option tied solely to biology but not skill or inclination, and one that can gravely limit all other options, especially when embarked on so young. Luckily, we don’t encourage that any more, but there are still “buts”…)

    Today, we extend childhood – which is just another way of killing or subduing or controlling the natural instinct to take risks. Hell, if having sex and procreating isn’t the ultimate risk, risking your very self to keep the species going, what is? And what’s typically of interest to many young people? If they’re sexually active, they’re not doing it to bug their parents, they’re doing it because it’s bred in the bone, it’s in the DNA: you *have* to do it, it’s a drive, regardless of how much you think about it. (Of course, extensive or excessive cerebration has an effect on the drives, as the Surrealists well understood – which comes out in many of their visual works.)

    I have to wonder whether drug use isn’t a by-product (so to speak) of the factory school system, which (imo) tends to throttle the natural (and good) inclinations of adolescents to take risks, to innovate, to *undertake* (entrepreneurialism). Put a couple of hundred frustrated teens into a factory, er, excuse me, *school*, and add some heavy dollops of crappy absentee parenting and a home-life where no one is paying attention to anything (it has to be said: parents have *a lot* to answer for!), and bingo-presto, you have a setting for a nihilistic peer culture whose creativity is thwarted, and which too often doesn’t have mature outlets for risk-taking. (And remember, I’m arguing that risk-taking, contrary to some research on the teenage brain, isn’t a medical condition or a question of incomplete neurological development: I’m arguing that it’s part of our DNA, and essential for an entrepreneurial and innovative and creative culture. But we deny it.) In a “perfect storm” type scenario (absent parents, no proper outlets for creativity, immature peer group, bad role models/no leadership models), those kids will do drugs, whether legal or illegal. They will seek them out, explore them, pour their energies into them.

    After all, their own parents have been doping them up since they were babies, often with Ritalin or other behavior-modifying junk. So why shouldn’t they try some little extras to help them get through the asininity of their extended, risk-free/ un-innovative, endless childhoods?

  • 2. Brodie  |  February 23, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    You are perfectly right about the whole alcohol-drugs thing, the only differences lie in the severity of the side effects. Alcohol, whilst being extremely destructive, has a smaller effect when compared to other drugs, aside from the one still illegal drug you forgot to mention, cannabis. Despite the millions the government spends on research each year, trying to give us reasons not to smoke it, it still has BS proven, Even when you take the very surface of it, our body reacts in a very natural, very positive way, we are hungry, we feel less pain, we have the ability to see situations in a different light and often have epiphanies and amazing revelations (which change our lives and the way we see the world forever, invite us to question and radicalize), It relaxs us, body and mind, it makes us happy, horny, hungry, calm, all the things which increase life. Alcohol, however, our bodies do not react to so kindly. Hangovers alone show our bodies arent fans, not to mention that after a certain amount we start vomiting and can get alcohol poisoning. around one person dies each week from alcohol poisoning when there has never been a single person to die from smoking too much week which may be because pot will make us pass out before we can reach the lethal dosage, as if it naturally safeguards you from smoking too much. How are Tobacco and Alcohol legal when Weed is not? Its ridiculous.

  • 3. Victoria Vice « Robertrandall’s Weblog  |  October 4, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    […] I discussed Amsterdam’s experiment with cracking down on “vice” here. […]

  • 4. Eco Green  |  November 30, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Politicians are 10 years behind the times, when it comes to hemp use. People have been fighting for along time against pot prohibition with some movement going on now. Still too slow for those caught up in the jail system. Our freedoms have been trampled on by folks who know nothing about how beautiful cannabis can be for someones life. Keep up the good work.


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