A DECISION by the Dutch government to decriminalise the smuggling of hard drugs could leave Britain vulnerable to a flood of cheap cocaine.
Customs officers are allowing traffickers caught at Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, with less than 3kg of cocaine to go free. The only penalty they face is the confiscation of their drugs.
In the first phase of a policy that could soon be extended to other hard drugs, the liberal measures are being applied to 35 so-called “cocaine flights” a week from the Caribbean.
Last year police caught 2,176 smugglers from the region and seized six tons of the drug. But from now on, traffickers no longer have to worry about hefty prison terms or even arrest.
The policy may prove even more controversial than Holland’s infamous “coffee shops”, where soft drugs such as cannabis have been sold openly for decades.
The Dutch authorities claim the measure will allow them to divert money spent prosecuting offenders into drug seizures. However, critics in neighbouring countries, including Britain, fear it will lead to a boom in the number of people ready to act as “mules” for drug cartels.
The National Drug Prevention Alliance in Britain has warned that the policy amounts to a capitulation by the police with consequences that could spin out of control.
“This won’t just hit the UK badly. It will affect the whole of Europe,” said David Raynes, a former chief narcotics investigator for Customs and Excise. “Holland is the drugs warehouse of Europe and by not controlling its problem it’s creating an infection that will spread to all the countries around.”
In Germany the street value of cocaine has already fallen from €150 (£102) a gram to just €50 (£34), raising the prospect of a sharp rise in the number of addicts. The Dutch government has ignored a plea from Otto Schily, the German interior minister, to toughen rather than weaken its deterrent.
However, Ivo Hommes, a spokesman for the Dutch justice ministry, said the initiative could save millions spent on prosecuting and jailing offenders, allowing more funds to go into the detection and confiscation of drugs. “Locking up thousands of smugglers doesn’t solve the problem. There will always be more of them,” he said. “We’ve been honest enough to admit that we only manage to stop 15% of the drugs coming in, so we are trying something new.”
A leaked ministry memorandum, however, has suggested that the policy was adopted because the prosecution service was overburdened. It emphasised that drug-related arrests should not be permitted to “block the justice system”.
Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service is said to be eyeing the policy “warily”.
Source: Sunday Times 1.02.04