AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
More than two years after Oregon decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, the disastrous results of the policy are becoming more evident with each passing day. At the same time, halfway around the world, Amsterdam is slowly moving to reverse its liberal drug laws, a powerful signal from one of the world’s most infamous drug havens that the promises of drug legalization have ultimately proved empty.
Oregon’s descent into becoming a drug wasteland began in 2014 when voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use for anyone over the age of 21. Despite the assurances of proponents of the measure to the contrary, however, illegal production of the drug skyrocketed, alongside demand for other far more deadly narcotics.
Instead of reconsidering the policy once these negative consequences became clear, Oregon lawmakers plowed ahead with even more liberal drug laws. In 2020, voters approved another ballot initiative that decriminalized possession of small amounts of all hard drugs, including substances like crack and heroin. Rather than arresting users, police were restricted to only issuing tickets which could be waived if users called a “recovery hotline” on the back of the citation.
Unsurprisingly, few called the hotline, and overdose deaths skyrocketed. In 2021, the first year the policy went into effect, opioid deaths spiked 58 percent. Along with increased drug use came more violent crime. Portland saw 90 murders in 2021, shattering the previous record of 66.
Other U.S. cities and states governed by far-left lawmakers have experimented with similar liberal drug laws. Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, and other major metro areas have all opened “supervised injection sites,” where users can receive needles and other drug paraphernalia and freely do heroin and other hard drugs – all at the taxpayer’s expense.
Proponents of these policies claim that they will somehow decrease drug use and make it safer – a pernicious lie that is plain to see by looking at examples of cities from Europe that implemented similar laws in the last century.
Amsterdam began its approach to radical drug legalization in 1976 with the decriminalizing of marijuana use. Other so-called “soft drugs” soon became legal, along with prostitution in 2000. Although the sale of “hard drugs” like cocaine and heroin is technically still illegal, the relaxed approach of the Dutch government to drugs generally has made Amsterdam and other Dutch cities major gateways for drugs to enter Europe.
Now, however, newly-empowered center-right Dutch Christian Democrats in Amsterdam are moving to ban smoking cannabis outdoors and in the city’s red light district. The council is also working to force brothels to close earlier, promising to reform Amsterdam’s image as a mecca for prostitution and drug use.
Instead, city leadership hopes to transform Amsterdam into a family-friendly historic town, said Diederik Boomsa, the leader of the local Christian Democrats.
According to legislation proposed by Boomsa, smoking marijuana will be banned in all public spaces, indoor or outdoor, including the red light district, from Thursday to Sunday. Sex shows and restaurants and bars serving alcohol in the downtown area will also have to close after 1 am.
City leaders hope that the changes will resurrect Amsterdam from its current state as a center of crime and debauchery. According to Dutch police, a crackdown on illegal alcohol sales in the city in 2020 reduced criminality in Amsterdam’s tourist areas by nearly half. Law enforcement has expressed optimism that more restrictions on drug use will have the same effect.
Another European city, Zurich, Switzerland, waged a similar war on immorality more than 30 years ago that should prove instructive for Amsterdam, Oregon, and other places around the world considering liberalized drug laws.
Amid the height of the drug crisis in the 1960s, Zurich, the banking hub of Switzerland, turned a beautiful garden in the center of the city into a “needle park” for drug users, claiming that removing punitive measures and opening the market would decrease criminality and long-term demand. Just like Oregon, however, the opposite occurred. The enclave saw a dramatic surge in narcotics addiction and drug-fueled prostitution, including among youth. The area became an epicenter of HIV infections and an oasis for international criminals looking to engage in all sorts of lawbreaking.
It took a social movement launched by a courageous group of young teachers, pedagogues, and doctors to reveal the true scale of the damage. Dr. Klaus Wirth, a medical science professor who helped lead the campaign, recounted how “the media attacked us, politicians mocked us, and academia even threatened to revoke our diplomas.” But in February of 1992, Zurich residents could finally breathe a sigh of relief after the park was closed.
The Zurich example also revealed another insidious aspect of the pro-drug legalization movement that has continued to this day: the involvement of Communist China.
According to multiple sources, the Chinese Communist Party played an active role in pushing the legalization of drugs in Europe as a destabilizing force. One former high-ranking member of the East German political police, the STASI, said that China, from its consulate in Potsdam, was targeting the next generation of finance executives and bankers in Zurich. “It was a political offensive,” he declared.
One year after the closure of the “needle park,” Zurich hosted a conference on fighting drug use. There, a Chinese defector identified only as a former CCP intelligence department official explained that, to the Chinese government, drug trafficking is a political warfare operation with worldwide ramifications. The goal is to provoke a social, economic, and political crisis, targeting the youngest generation by fomenting mental unrest and frustration. This, they hoped, would produce the conditions for a workers’ revolution and regime change.
U.S. leaders were made aware of this phenomenon prior to President Nixon’s “opening” to China in 1972. In February of that year, during a congressional hearing on “alleged involvement of the People’s Republic of China in Illicit Drug Trafficking,” Representative John Ashbrook, an Ohio Republican, emphasized that “the production of opium by Red Chinese for illicit export is a long established policy.”
However, the push to restore relations with China silenced Ashbrook’s concerns. It was not until the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that a U.S. leader called out China for its drug-peddling operations, which now included funneling deadly fentanyl through Mexico and into the United States.
In their push to make drug laws more “compassionate,” far-left liberal politicians have not only sentenced users to more suffering and addiction, they have also made themselves complicit in the efforts of U.S. adversaries to undermine domestic security and tranquility. Leaders in Europe are beginning to see this reality. Democrats in Oregon and throughout the rest of the United States would be wise to do the same.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.