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How successful was the Dutch Drug Control Policy Essay

Opiates have been part of Dutch society since the 19th century. During the 1960’s however, drugs were increasingly becoming a problem with social consequences. According to Leuw (1991), drugs were becoming more and more appealing to so-called ‘normal people’. The Dutch government therefore decided to revise the original Opium Act of 1928. Its main aim was to “keep the use of dangerous drugs as a health and social problem, under control”.i The revised Opium Act of 1976 was introduced and proved highly controversial. It made a distinction in the drug markets. There would henceforth be harder penalties for possessing or dealing in hard drugs like cocaine and heroine, while there would be leaner penalties for possessing and dealing in softer drugs and the partial decriminalisation of cannabis all together. Its aim after all was ‘to contribute to the prevention of and to deal with the risk that the use of mind-altering drugs present to individual themselves, their immediate environment and society as a whole’.ii

The evaluation of the Dutch Drug Policy is interesting according to Marinetto, firstly because the Policy is an explicit and consciously planned intervention to address the social problem of drug abuse. Secondly, With twenty-five years gone by, the policy has had time to take hold and the questions are blooming, making an evaluation of its influence possible and necessary. And finally, the controversy surrounding the policy means that an evaluation will support or discredit the Dutch government’s efforts.

Historical Analysis: actors, institution, constraints, and macro-theoretical paradigm.

The historical/chronological analysis of the Dutch drug policy is very important in its evaluation, “particularly when adopting a grounded, qualitative paradigm”.iii History and evolution is important according to the author because firstly, it outlines the features of the policy and the extent to which the government has tried to address them. And secondly, it provides an insight into the social and political forces that influenced policy-makers.

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The author’s approach to the evaluation of the Dutch Drug Policy is quantitative and qualitative. Marinetto is rather critical of the methods used pre-80’s, and rightly so. He notes that quantitative measures of the sort used in cost-benefit analysis and output studies are also prominent in analysis of drug policy.iv The problem however, is that Quantitative methods do not necessarily provide objective insight into the reality that concerns policy-makers. They fail to provide an objective and neutral insight into the social world. Perhaps most important is that fact that the evaluation process is highly political and since the executive have power to select information depending on “where sit”v, the whole process comes into question.

It is for these very reasons that the author merits the 80’s more flexible process of evaluation that firstly, aims to distinguish between the impact of policy and the influence of “externalities”.vi And secondly, that assesses the substantive achievements of the policy according to different criteria and viewpoints. This evaluation of the Dutch policy according to Marinetto is flexible because it is open to different sources of data and strategies in developing an evaluation of the policy and its overall impact. This openness provides a framework for a grounded style of evaluation and existing theoretical paradigms do not necessarily dictate the direction and form of the evaluation. Marinetto himself uses the ‘view from the ground’ in his evaluation. Interestingly enough, his evaluation is infected with the same bug he discredits. Biases against the conservatives can definitely be detected in his evaluation.

According to Marinetto, looking back at the development of Dutch drug control adds analytical depth to evaluation. This is important since there needs to be a template for comparison and external influences on the policy targets need to be considered. We ought to Credit him on this account since any quality evaluation will have to cover the policy over time and not just momentarily.

Furthermore, official data, which may be selective, is not used on its own but in conjunction with more qualitative data obtained form researchers, academics, practitioner and officials. This is then combined with secondary sources (books and articles) and “the view from the ground”. Survey these different analytical view points, means that an evaluation can be made concerning the relative impact of the Dutch drug policy, the aim being to assess the influence of government intervention in relation to other forces at work in the field.vii Why?

This is because policy may be one among a wide range of forces that contribute to social change or development. Similarly Harrop (1992) notes that development and changes in society might be due more to fundamental forces than government intervention. When evaluating the policy, Marinetto bares in mind that the government although powerful, may “not be in as much control as it (and we) would or might like”.viii Drug abuse in the Netherlands is just as likely to be influenced by trend in the drug marketix as it is by government intervention.

The historical summary of Dutch policy allows Marinetto to satisfy two of Richardson et al.’s requirements: The government’s approach to problem solving (anticipatory/active) and the relationship between the government and other actors in the policy processx. Is the government seeking to reach a consensus or looking to impose decisions?

Marinetto agrees with Putten (1982) that older departments like the Netherlands Ministry of Justice tends to use a formal approach which leaves policy formulation to the executive and parliament with only a select group of top officials are allowed to contribute to the process. Newer departments on the other hand use a more informal, inclusive approach, which forms close collaborative alliances with relevant interest groups. Marinetto noted that over the last 22years negotiation is increasingly moving beyond the ‘golden circle’ to include advisory bodies and interest groups. Hence the increase in specialised committees from 8 to 28 between 1948 and 1980. This evaluation of the policy-makers is important because the policy subsystem is constrained by the fact that institutions shape actors behaviour by conditioning the actors’ perception of their interests and affecting their probability of realising them by constraining on some choices and facilitating others.xi

This change in policy style led to innovation in the content of the drug policy particularly drug control. The review was not confined to the ministers and officials. More actors were introduced into the process. Two specialist committees were formed. (1) The Locke Hulsman, under the state-sponsored Institute for Mental Health was made up of scientists’ sociologists and officials form the Ministry of Justice and Health, and Heads of Mental Health Bodies. (2) Baan committee made up of senior administrative officials from the Ministry of Public Health and Justice (dominated by law officials).

According to the Minster for public health (1976) social democrat Irene Vorrink (key actor) the legislation aimed to reduce the health risks associated with drug use. Marinetto notes that policies seldom make very defined aims, for fear of failure. The policy-makers used a process of developing a systematic methodical and carefully scrutinised plan of action to produce a realistic response to the problem. And this explains why the partial decriminalisation of cannabis in 1976 had not lead to a huge increase in the number of drug addicts. Legislation according to the author actually helped to preclude vulnerable experimenting youngsters from developing hard drug habits. Here, Marinetto rightly considers the outcomes of implemented policies in his evaluation.

Marinetto goes on to evaluate the sensitivity of the policy-makers. The research, Drug Policy in Motion by the Ministry of Health was productive because it introduced a new feature, which focused on normalisation of drug problems and drug users. The policy according to Marinetto was adapting to the situation complete rehabilitation was unrealistic after all. The government therefore concentrated on developing low-threshold facilities providing needle exchange programs for example. Marinetto notes that although the government is tolerant it was no fool. By the late 1980’s there was a shift in policy from active to reactive. This is important in the evaluation process because it shows the flexibility of the policy-makers.

Flexibility is important because of the constraints the policy-makers are faced with. These constraints may act as permissive or restrictive forces. Marinetto considers the constraints international institutions like the EU present. The intergovernmental system that operates within the EU means that the Dutch government is primarily accountable to its people and is obliged to operate in their best interest – permissive. However, the EU is concerned about the effects of geography and drug trafficking. The liberal Dutch stance together with their location makes them a prime port for traffickers whose activities are measured in the evaluation process. Pressure like this is restrictive. The Netherlands is not an island.

Other constraints not mentioned by the author are a direct result of the Dutch political system and are critical in the policy process. The system requires a kind of consensus amongst its members of government. Political parties like the Christian Democratic Appeal have a conservative view while the Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy has a much more liberal view. This is fundamentally an ideological divide but leads to economic arguments as well. The government at the helm is obviously Liberal, as Marinetto himself. He displays an obvious bias towards the Conservatives who are subtle in their opposition since their ‘community’ benefits from the liberal policy. It does not make criminal of their children in a sense.

Marinetto does not really conduct an evaluation of the Dutch ‘active’ rather than ‘re-active’ stance (used in the EU and US) and it’s economic implication on the success of the policy. For one, the costs of implementing and maintaining the drug policy are high. The Netherlands spends more per person (over �2000) than any other country on prevention and care for addicts according to Wever.xii In addition, the state must consider the fact that its liberal stance simply acts like a magnet for immigrants through out Europe. This will most certainly lead to a significant increase in the Health Service budget, for instance. These can infringe on the success of the drug policy. It may become a financial burden.

Perhaps the greatest constraint in the policy process, which the author explores for his evaluation, is the ‘view from the ground’. The people who are affected by policy make up the electorate and they undoubtedly weigh heavily on the mind of actors. All together politics, ideology (for/against welfare) and sectional interests form the voters; affect the policy process and its performance.

Marinetto’s evaluation further touches an important area. He questions the adherence to the initial approach. Pressure from those with “structural” and “relational” power has caused more and more reactionary policy notes. Hence, the Clamp down on legitimate commercial outlets for trade in cannabis came into force. Measures in the 1990’s to reduce nuisance – antisocial behaviour and drug related crimes – burglary, theft and violent acts and controlling “drug tourism”. Criminal law and welfare provisions were married to control the situation.

These elements of a reactionary approach, which have crept in since the mid-1980, have not entirely wiped out the original stance – risk-minimising according to Marinetto. As explained in a recent government policy document: ” The government has decided that in tackling the drug problem it should maintain the course it embarked upon in the 1970s, albeit with a few adjustments”xiii “Few adjustments” are needed according to Marinetto. His evaluation sees the sensitivity of the government to the changing circumstances. The new ‘war’ for many governments is on ecstasy. As usual, the official response is a health-orientated, risk minimising approach, which involves the collaboration of various authorities and interest groups.

In light of this, Marinetto does not pay a lot of attention to the evaluation of the macro-theoretical paradigms although his evaluation firmly puts him on the liberal lines. In fairness however, he does imply elements of communitarianism, particularly in recent years. There exists a social and political strategy. The government is not just relying on penal measures but encourages the involvement of ‘outreach’ teams in the community, which co-operate with the social workers and the police. Although they do not make policy, the have a relational power that influences it. The fact that society as a whole is working to control the drug problem and the Dutch refusal to implement policies that suit the “global” world rather than its people, are all communitarian elements. After all there can be unity (EU) in diversity.

However, the fact that the Executive is the only body at the end of the day that has the authority to make and implement policies, no state is strong in all sectors. Influences on the states’ institutions are contingent rather than predetermined.xiv Institutions don’t usually cause action; they are intermediate variables that affect policy choices and outcomes in conjunction with other factors and in response to particular situations. But, Marinetto is very clear on the influence and constraints that conservative politicians within the Netherlands, neighbours, the EU .

What conclusion does the authors analysis lead to?

Policy evaluation takes varied forms however the evaluation of the Dutch Drug Policy does not aim entirely to measure goal performance. Instead it is more analytic, focusing on the effectiveness of ongoing policies and the performance of the administrators and institutions implementing the program. In assessing drugs policy in the Netherlands the main consideration must be the results achieved in practice.

Hence, it must cover the effectiveness of the policy across a range of areas. Marinetto’s focus on areas such as the drug market, patterns of drug behaviour, the incidence of drug-related deaths and disease, the extent of drug-related crimes, trafficking etc., are important if the evaluation is to have any significance and value. Because, although quantitative-based techniques which in the past dominated policy evaluation provide objective data about the performance, Marinetto’s evaluation is not focusing entirely on performance but on the effectiveness of the policy and those implementing it as well. In his view the “expansionist” stance – evaluating a programme of intervention like Dutch drug policy in a way that understands the context of the phenomenon and reflects the complexity of the issues.xv

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