Contrary to what is often claimed by supporters of the tolerant Dutch drugs policy, cannabis usage by young people in the Netherlands is not lower but actually higher than average in Europe, it emerges from the European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) over the year 2007.
On usage of cannabis, the Netherlands scores above the European average. Over one-quarter (28 percent) of the youngsters aged 15 and 16 surveyed said they have used cannabis sometime in their life, compared with an average of 19 percent in Europe. Current cannabis usage (at least once in the month prior to the survey) is more than double the European average in the Netherlands (15 versus 7 percent).
The Netherlands has risen in the ranking order of 35 European countries from number 12 in 2003 to number 5 on recent cannabis usage. This is due on the one hand to a 2 percentage point increase from 2003 (13 percent) and on the other, to a reduction in a number of countries that scored worse than the Netherlands in 2003, including France (from 22 to 15 percent) and England(from 20 to 11 percent).
The Dutch youngsters, possibly due to the liberal climate, widely believe that cannabis is innocent. The proportion of schoolchildren that think regular cannabis usage involves big risks is the lowest in the Netherlands (50 percent) of all countries surveyed. It is highest in Finland, at 80 percent.
Nearly half (49 percent) of the Dutch schoolchildren say it is (quite) easy to get cannabis. This puts the Netherlands third after the Czech Republic (66 percent) and the UK (51 percent). The infamous Dutch cannabis bars (‘coffee shops’) are not allowed to admit any minors.
The proportion of Dutch schoolchildren that say they have experience with drugs such as ecstasy, amphetamines, LSD, ‘magic mushrooms’ and cocaine and heroin is 7 percent, exactly the same as the European average. Use of tobacco among Dutch youngsters is also average. The Netherlands does score badly on alcohol consumption.
In the month prior to the survey, nearly one-quarter of the Dutch 15 and 16 year old drunk alcohol more than 10 times, compared with a European average of 10 percent. Only schoolchildren in Austria drink more often. Dutch youngsters also drink slightly more alcohol per occasion than the European average, but countries like Denmark, the UK and Norway have considerably higher scores here.
The risks of alcohol usage are rated low by Dutch schoolchildren. Only 18 percent expect negative effects from their own use of alcohol, such as damage to health or problems with the police, compared with the European average of 32 percent. This gives the Netherlands the lowest score here along with Germany.
This is the fourth time the four-yearly ESPAD study has been carried out. The data collection in the Netherlands was financed by the health ministry and carried out by the Trimbos institute in collaboration with the University of Utrecht.
Source: NIS News Bulletin <http://www.nisnews.nl 4th April 2009