Committee: the current system of the Opium Act does not have to be changed

The current system of two lists in the Opium Act, including hard and soft drugs, does not have to be changed. This is stated in the report entitled 'Drugs in lists' drawn up by the expert committee on list systems, which was offered today to Minister Schippers of Health, Welfare and Sport, and Minister Opstelten of Security and Justice. According to the committee, a number of measures are desirable to guarantee that this remains the case. The committee is in favour of setting up a reporting centre, with a view to monitoring new drugs. Furthermore, the extent of damage to society should constitute a considerable factor in any decision to make substances subject to the Opium Act. In addition, the committee wants to have the risks of the substance named Qat re-examined. A division should be made between light and heavy cannabis based on THC content.

The committee concludes that the current system of two lists in the Opium Act does not have to be changed. This system allows a distinction to be made between drugs with an unacceptable risk (hard drugs) and other substances (soft drugs). A number of measures are required, however, to guarantee that this remains the case.

Reporting centre

In its report, the committee writes that the field of stimulants is constantly in motion. In the field of narcotics, designer drugs are the most familiar. This concerns current synthetic drugs, whose chemical formula is changed so that the new substance no longer falls under the scope of the Opium Act, while it does have characteristics that are largely similar to those of the original substance. In addition, new substances also turn up with some regularity. It is very important, from the perspective of prevention, to ensure that new substances are identified in a systematic manner at a reporting centre. Based on those reports, new drugs can be tracked, and warnings for certain risks related to these new substances can be issued in time.

Review of the procedure

Placing substances on the lists of the Opium Act usually follows from international conventions. In addition, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport can also add substances to the lists or move substances from one list to the other independently. In this connection, the statutory criterion applies that it must have been demonstrated that a substance influences the consciousness of human beings and that human consumption of this substance can lead to damage to people's health and damage to society. The committee considers that the term ‘damage to society’ should be interpreted broadly. This should also include damage with respect to social relationships on a personal and local community level, as well as on a broader scale, according to the committee.

Cannabis

The committee observes that cannabis produced in the Netherlands has had a high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in recent years, which increased the risks for public health. Cannabis and hashish with a THC content in excess of 15 percent should, according to the committee, be placed on List I of the Opium Act as a hard drug. Transferring heavy cannabis to List I means that the punishments for trafficking heavy cannabis will be increased and that coffeeshops can only sells lighter varieties of cannabis.

Qat, GHB and XTC

In its report, the committee recommends reassessing a number of substances. For example, Qat has to be reassessed, whereby attention should be paid to the above-mentioned social damage and, in particular, to the international context.

The committee has established that recent developments concerning GHB are so worrisome, that a possible change of its current place on List II of the Opium Act should be reconsidered. The committee has taken note of the fact that the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport has requested the Coordination Point for Assessment and Monitoring for new drugs (CAM) to perform a new risk assessment.

As regards MDMA, better known as XTC, the committee concludes that investigations show that damage to the health of the individual in the long term is less serious than was initially assumed. But the extent of the illegal production and involvement of organised crime leads to damage to society, including damage to the image of the Netherlands abroad. This argues in favour of maintaining MDMA on List I.

Alcohol and tobacco

As regards alcohol and tobacco, the committee establishes that it is impossible to place these substances under the operation of the Opium Act. According to the committee, current statutory regulations offer sufficient possibilities to counter the risks inherent in alcohol and tobacco. According to the committee, it is advisable to intensify current possibilities with respect to monitoring and supervision, in order to improve compliance with current legislation and regulations.

Expert Committee on the List System of the Opium Act

Following on the report entitled 'No doors, but action' drawn up by the advisory committee on drugs policy, the previous Cabinet formed the Expert Committee on the List System of the Opium Act under the chairmanship of Professor Garretsen of Tilburg University. The committee was asked to elaborate various scenarios for the list system in the Opium Act and, in doing so, to identify in detail the advantages and disadvantages of these scenarios.

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