Unidentified gunmen fire 81 shots at a house in a residential neighbourhood, probably with a machine gun. A man is found dead inside a burned-out Mercedes on a quiet stretch of woodland road. Elsewhere, hand grenades are thrown into a ‘coffeeshop’ during the night. No one is hurt, but the shop, which is licensed to sell small amounts of marijuana to the public, is severely damaged.
A wave of drugs-related violence is rocking the southern part of the Netherlands. The mayor of a small Dutch city has even gone into hiding after repeated threats to his life. And Eindhoven Mayor Rob van Gijzel is urging the national government to step in and send police reinforcements:
“We have relatively few police officers. All our policing capacity goes into investigating the gangland killings themselves. There just isn’t the manpower to find out how the criminal networks operate. That’s why we can’t tackle them directly. The ongoing investigations also mean we have less time to deal with other types of crime.”
The violence comes as the Netherlands is rethinking its decades-old soft-drugs policy. Many blame the current wave of violence on the fudged legal construction which allows small amounts of marijuana to be sold in so-called ‘coffeeshops,’ while keeping the supply of the drugs to those same shops illegal.
Security Minister Ivo Opstelten wants to introduce a marijuana-pass system for ‘coffeeshops’ in the southern region around Eindhoven, the province of North Brabant. Under the system, ‘coffeeshops’ will become clubs and Dutch residents will be able to become members and be given passes. Only people with passes will be able to buy cannabis from the outlets.
The new government plans to introduce the system nationwide, but it will now be implemented first in the Brabant region. However, a case challenging the proposed law has gone to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which will rule whether or not the legislation violates European free trade agreements.
Almost by definition, present Dutch policy encourages crime. ‘Coffeeshops’ have to obtain their supplies from illegal sources. Hence, many of the outlets' owners are suspected of having ties with criminal gangs.
And this is not new. There have been violent drug-related incidents in the south for the past 20 years, says criminologist Cyrille Fijnaut from the University of Tilburg. And it’s not just in the south. “The extremely negative, counter-productive results of Dutch drugs policy affect the whole country.”
Many communities have been trying to tackle the problems generated by ‘coffeeshops’. Two cities have banned the cannabis outlets altogether and, last year, the mayor of Maastricht tried to move them all out of the city centre.
Any change in policy cannot come soon enough for cities such as Eindhoven. Residents are also looking to the national government in The Hague. “If the mayor cannot handle the problem, then he’ll have to turn to The Hague. After all, it’s not a local problem: it’s a national one,” says one resident.
The wave of drugs related violence in the south could be the first big test of the new Security Minister Ivo Opstelten, in a government which has made law and order a priority.