Bill O’Reilly’s report on the city of Amsterdam of December 2008 is rather well known online as the amalgamation of ideology-driven falsehoods which it was. The Fox News anchor happily portrayed the Dutch capital as a cesspool of corruption and crime, warning that the Obama Administration had a similar fate in store for all of America.
Just a month after Barack Obama’s election to president, the left, according to O’Reilly was “pushing the envelope” to legalize marijuana and prostitution in the United States. Both have been legal, to an extent, in the Netherlands, so it makes sense to look at how things played out there.
Margaret Hoover, a Republican Party strategist, appeared on the program to talk about the “wonderfully naieve ideas” which Dutchmen had “about teaching their children to have safe sex and smoke grass.” Consequently, she claimed, criminals and drug addicts from all over Europe came to Amsterdam to “exploit that opening.” The city then “is a mess.”
This is nothing short of a wonderfully naive bunch of lies, except that Dutch youngster are indeed taught about safe sex in high school — which probably accounts for a relatively low number of teenage pregnancies. According to research from the 1990s, a little over six out of every 1,000 women in the Netherlands under the age of 20 gives birth to a son or daughter. The number stands at 52 in the United States which is actually the highest in the developed world.
Children, of course, aren’t taught how to use drugs in school nor is Amsterdam “full of undesirables,” as O’Reilly put it. Unless that refers to liberals in general.
Monica Crowley, a Fox News contributor, described the city as a “cesspool of corruption,” though the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal notes that corruption in the Netherlands is among the lowest in the world. According to Crowley, “everything is out of control” in the country yet violent crime is minimal and outside of the major cities, virtually non-existent.
The legalization of prostitution has in fact reduced related crime. Human trafficking is a real problem still, but Dutch police are actively fighting it. Part of the Amsterdam red-light district was shut down in recent years for that purpose and laws have been enacted that allow the city to close brothels if the police so much as suspects that it might be engaged in any criminal activity.
The drugs story is a little more complicated because Dutch law distinguishes between “hard” (cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD) and “soft drugs” (marijuana and, at the time of O’Reilly’s report, psilocybin mushrooms). Neither are legal but the latter are formally “tolerated” which means that people are allowed to sell, buy and consume them, though only in limited quantities and in licensed coffee shops.
In spite of what O’Reilly may suggest, drug use in the Netherlands is fairly low. A 1999 study by the University of Amsterdam found that about 15 percent of Dutchmen had ever used marijuana while the numbers for illegal drugs hovered near 2 percent.
In the United States on the other hand, 47 percent of Americans over the age of 12 reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes, according to a 2008 national survey undertaken by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The greatest problem with the Dutch policy is not that it tolerates drug use; the greatest problem is that it remains illegal for coffee shopkeepers to purchase their wares. They may sell drugs but not buy them, which pretty much forces them to deal with criminals. In a nationwide appeal, Dutch mayors this year called upon the government to finally legalize soft drugs altogether which, they believed, would do more to put an end to drug related crime than either maintaining the status quo or criminalizing drugs altogether.
Prostitution and drugs are difficult issue to tackle for any government. But the Dutch have pursued a bold and successful policy in recent decades that several other European countries as Belgium, Spain and Switzerland are now beginning to adopt as well.
People won’t stop using drugs or stop seeing prostitutes because it’s illegal. The American case amply demonstrates this. Society may deem certain behavior undesirable but that on itself does not justify the abridgement of civil liberties.