When in Amsterdam

Amsterdam. Scores of excited university students flock there to participate in the activities illegal in their home countries. To older generations and most governments, Amsterdam is regarded as a center for debauchery- but what are the facts about Amsterdam?

Amsterdam was ranked as the 5th safest city in the world

Despite the legalization of traditionally frowned upon activities and vices such as prostitution and soft drugs (e.g. marijuana), Amsterdam claims a ranking of 5th in safety among major cities in the world, outranking the likes of London, Washington D.C., and more. Violent assaults in Amsterdam are a rarity. However, the crime most common in Amsterdam is theft, which is to be expected with the large numbers of tourists who visit the city every year.

Another important observation to note is that although the national language of the Netherlands is Dutch, nearly every person in Amsterdam speaks English. Most of the signs around the city are even in English. This is due to English being more commonly spoken in Europe than Dutch, so most citizens choose it as a second language, and grow to be very proficient in it.

The use of marijuana is greater in the United States than in the Netherlands

Despite stricter drug laws in the United States, the “lifetime prevalence” or percentage of the population that has tried marijuana in the US is 41.5% versus the Netherlands’ 25.7%. The percentage of people who have used the drug in the past year in the United States is 11.3% while in the Netherlands it is 7%. This could be the result of a more extensive drug education for children in the Netherlands, or perhaps the outcome of thorough screening of the sale of drugs in the country. Not only is the use of drugs lower, but so is the homicide rate and the incarceration rate.

U.S.A Netherlands
Homicide Rate per 100,000 people 4.7 0.9
Prison Population per 100,000 population 716 82

Prostitution is just business

Prostitution has been legal in Amsterdam since 1811. Brothels need a special permit and prostitutes pay taxes. There are also unions for prostitutes (De Rode Draad). They can also get loans from the bank and company insurance. The risk of sexually transmitted diseases is not very high due to the fact that most prostitutes get routine medical check-ups and have a basic understanding of, and practice, safe sex. According to surveys, 78% of people of the Netherlands have no feelings against paid sex. The Netherlands has managed to greatly remove the social taboo from prostitution.

Only “soft drugs” are legal in Amsterdam

It is not a free-for-all. “Soft” drugs, such as cannabis in all forms and hallucinogenic mushrooms in some forms, are legal as long as they are only for “personal use”. Deadly drugs like morphine, heroin, and cocaine are illegal. Driving under the influence of any drugs is seen as the same as driving under alcoholic influence, and punishable by law. Private and unlawful large scale growing, processing, and trading are forbidden. The Dutch have also discovered that commercial access to soft drugs lessen their appeal. This could possibly explain why although they are legal, there are significantly less numbers of people using marijuana an other soft drugs in the Netherlands when compared to more conservative societies.

Despite the legalization and normality of what many would consider immoral activities, Amsterdam is not the dystopian society many would assume. The Dutch have done much to decriminalize the use of soft drugs, making it an issue of health, if anything. They often reference the 1920’s prohibition of alcohol in the United States to highlight how more negative effects can come from trying to completely ban a substance, rather than providing education, health services, and regulation of it. The Dutch legalize soft drugs because they believe drugs will never disappear. So, rather than making it illegal and having a potentially dangerous situation outside of the government-controlled sphere, they are instead able to regulate and control it through legalization. Some may call these policies far-fetched, but the facts reveal that perhaps a more progressive view is necessary to create a safer society.

One thought on “When in Amsterdam

  1. I don’t necessarily agree with Amsterdam’s choice in laws, but it’s obvious that something is working. Of course making cannbis legal in the U.S isn’t going to solve all of our problems, but it could make a difference, whether it’s economically or socially. Despite this, I do think that the Dutch have a certain mindset that differs from that of the American one, and I think this contributes to their status as the 5th safest city. However, it’s a city I’d very much like to visit one day!

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