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Mainline reacts to mayor Halsema

On January 5, 2024, Femke Halsema, Mayor of Amsterdam, published an article in The Guardian about the need to review and reform drug policy. She concurs that our current policies are failing on all fronts and are even leading to more violence and crime, rather than less. In the article, she calls for reforms: regulating drug markets, state control on the production and trade of psychoactive substances, making resources available for medical substance use, a combination of the above or other creative policy solutions.

As Mainline we fully support this plea. We have been working in the harm reduction field for 33 years. Harm reduction is the application of (public) health measures to limit the risks of drug use. At the same time, the harm reduction field is a movement that fights for social justice for people who use drugs and who often end up on the margins of society. Mainline works in a large number of countries around the world and sees the direct impact of the ‘war on drugs’ on human lives. Not just on the lives of people who use substances, but also on the lives of (young) people who try to realise a better life for themselves through the drug trade. Many of these people end up in prison or eventually die from violence.

As an organisation that focuses primarily on health, Mainline has long been reluctant to engage in the often highly polarised debate around policy reform and drug regulation. But over the years, in the countries where we work, we have seen an increase in high-risk use, greater availability of resources, rougher drug scenes, and more and more gross human rights violations – mostly targeted towards people at the bottom of the drug market. The increased production, trade and consumption of drugs is confirmed in the latest UN World Drug Report. Recently, the OHCHR – the human rights institute of the United Nations – also mentioned the urgent need to regulate drugs.

Without radical policy reforms, it is not possible to protect people’s health and their rights. The ever-increasing investment in the repression of drug production and trafficking further distances us from our goals: a society that is as safe and healthy as possible. We see the fact that a Mayor now recognises this clearly and unambiguously, and on an international stage, as a huge step. A courageous step, moreover, because the well-known accusations about ‘left-wing elite hobbies’ have already been fired.

In that highly polarised debate, Mainline hopes to add nuance. We have 33 years of experience in the drug field, we do not rush into things, we do not have a political agenda and we are genuinely concerned with people suffering from the consequences of the illegal drug markets. Mayor Halsema’s appeal is well thought out. Her plea has a strong scientific basis and underscores the urgent problems that Mainline has been trying to draw attention to for years. It is high time to recognise the gross systemic flaws in our policies and to explore realistic alternatives. The fact that Amsterdam wants to be at the forefront of this makes Mainline more than proud. Of our city and of our Mayor.



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