top of page

Amsterdam Mayor advocates legalising cocaine use

Femke Halsema has become one of Europe's leading proponents of the legalisation of cocaine

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema is calling for the sale and consumption of cocaine in the city to be regulated rather than criminalised

April 2024: The Mayor of Amsterdam has become one of Europe's leading proponents of the legalisation of cocaine. Femke Halsema, is calling for the sale and consumption of cocaine in the city to be regulated rather than criminalised. The aim, she said, is to prevent criminal drug trafficking, which, according to the mayor, generates billions in profits every year. The mayor believes that regulating the use of hard drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy (xtc) would be the only way to fight drug trafficking and its disastrous effects on the youth of the Dutch capital.


The Netherlands has been fighting against the illegal drug scene for a long time. The Dutch authorities’ ‘war on drugs’ has not been able to put a stop to the violent and billion-dollar underworld, said Mayor Halsema. In Amsterdam, a hub for drug trafficking, some 80 per cent of police activities are dedicated to combating drug-related crime.


“Without a fundamental change of course, the Netherlands is in danger of becoming a narco-state,” Mayor Halsema warned. “If we continue on this current path, our economy will be inundated with criminal money, and violence will reach an all-time high,” she wrote in an article for the London Guardian. “This leads to social disruption, the deterioration of neighbourhoods, generations of vulnerable young people who will be lured into crime, and the undermining of the rule of law.”


In a recent interview (April 2024) with the French news agency AFP, Femke Halsema said: "I think some drugs are dangerous and I also think it's wise to reduce drug use.” “But I also realise that the way we are doing it is not helping," she continued. “That is why we must think about better ways to regulate drugs. I could imagine that cocaine could be obtained in pharmacies or through the medical system," the Mayor, explained.


The Amsterdam Mayor told a reporter from Het Financieele Dagblad that hundreds of years of discouragement and repression of drugs have achieved very little. “Apparently many people have a need for stimulants. There is a market for that.” In 2023, Dutch Customs seized almost 60,000 kg of cocaine. This is a sharp increase compared to 2022 when some 51,000 kg of cocaine was seized.



Amsterdam Manifesto Dealing with Drugs

At a conference in January 2024, Femke Halsema presented a manifesto which called for a more humane drug policy. In its preamble, the ‘Amsterdam Manifesto Dealing with Drugs’ states that across the world, the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has failed to protect the health and safety of citizens and communities. “Moreover, it has and continues to fuel organised crime, escalate violence, disproportionately affect vulnerable individuals and societies and disrupt economies.”


The signatories, which include politicians, policymakers and scientists, advocate to break this vicious cycle by embracing pragmatic, evidence-based policies that acknowledge the realities of drug use and drug markets.


The Amsterdam Manifesto also urged authorities to recognise the failures and human rights violations caused by punitive drug enforcement. “We pledge to adopt health-focused policies that emphasize harm reduction, decriminalisation and the regulation of drug markets. Our proposed policies are aimed not only at safeguarding public health and human dignity but also at fostering social justice,” the Manifesto’s signatories declared.



Swiss cities are among the top cocaine users

One of the manifesto’s signatories, the Mayor of the Swiss capital Bern, described a pilot scheme the city was working on after an explosion of open crack cocaine use on the streets in 2023. Switzerland's capital is examining whether to allow the sale of cocaine for recreational use - a radical approach to the ‘war on drugs’ that is not thought to have been tried elsewhere. Mayor Alec von Graffenried pointed out that many European countries, including Spain, Italy and Portugal, no longer had prison sentences for possession of drugs including cocaine, although no country has gone as far as the proposal under discussion in Bern.


Wealthy Switzerland has one of the highest levels of cocaine use in Europe, according to the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites measured in wastewater, with Zurich, Basel and Geneva all featuring in the top 10 cities in Europe. Other Swiss cities, including Bern, are also showing increasing usage, while prices of cocaine have halved in the last five years, according to Addiction Switzerland, a non-governmental organisation. "We have a lot of cocaine in Switzerland right now, at the cheapest prices and the highest quality we have ever seen," said Frank Zobel, deputy director at Addiction Switzerland. "You can get a dose of cocaine for about 10 francs these days, not much more than the price for a beer."



Opposition to the Amsterdam Manifesto

In contrast to the Mayor of Amsterdam, who has called for the regulation of the sale and use of cocaine as a means of hitting dealers’ profits, the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, wants authorities to clamp down harder on the use of recreational drugs. “Rotterdam, home to Europe’s biggest port, is one of the continent’s main north-western gateways for drug smugglers, along with Antwerp and Le Havre,” said the Mayor.


In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, the Rotterdam Mayor, who was awarded the 2021 World Mayor Prize, said: “Pleas to regulate or legalise drugs ignore the fact that entire groups of young people in our working-class neighbourhoods are confronted with this misery and are corrupted. The phenomenon of high-class users enjoying a line on a Friday night has heavy repercussions in working-class neighbourhoods.”


Last year, Rotterdam ran a campaign targeting drug users to raise awareness of the connection between recreational drug use and gang-related violence. The campaign consisted of several posters, one showed a coffin with a cross made up of two lines of cocaine and the text ‘Your hit, his execution’. Another has a picture of a hand grenade made from ecstasy (xtc) pills saying ‘Your drug use blows up homes’ while a third poster shows a blood-soaked xtc pill, saying ‘This pill has blood on it’.


The Amsterdam Mayor's position is not only controversial in the Netherlands but also in neighbouring Belgium. One of her critics is Bart De Wever, the Mayor of Antwerp, a major gateway for drugs in Europe.


But the Mayor of Amsterdam believes that debates about how to deal with drugs are not very productive. According to her, they are too emotional and moralising. "There is rarely a pragmatic or economic discussion on this topic," said Femke Halsema. For her, treating users like criminals is not a solution. She referred to the situation in the US, where the prison system is overwhelmed by the number of drug offences.

Related pages: Dutch women mayors


bottom of page