Conference amsterdam

Approximate reading time: 5 minutes

Last week, the Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, launched a major international event, ‘Dealing with drugs - Cities and the quest for regulation’. The initiative seeks to explore how, not if, responsible drug regulation can help address the contemporary challenges associated with the global illegal drug trade.

Transform has been proud to work with international colleagues (IDPC, TNI, Mainline, Correlation, Jellinek, and the City of Amsterdam) over recent months to support the development of this new initiative.

From violence, corruption and growing public health threats, to the undermining of human rights, good governance and sustainable development - the failings of the punitive prohibitionist paradigm, the so-called ‘war on drugs’, have never been more evident. Acknowledging these systemic generational policy failings, the ‘Dealing with Drugs’ initiative aims to leverage the unique expertise, lived experience, and political influence of cities and municipal governments to explore and advocate for regulation of drugs as a key part of the solution.

The conference, attended by over 300 delegates, focused on the groundbreaking premise of how, rather than if, the debate on regulation could be progressed. It involved a range of stakeholders from around the world, including fellow Mayors and civic leaders, alongside a broad spectrum of civil society and academic expertise - from as far afield as Colombia, Canada and South Africa.

mainline XTC shop

The conference space also hosted the ‘XTC shop’ produced by Mainline- two mock up retail MDMA models designed to provoke discussion on what regulation could or should look like in the future. The installation (developed with technical input from Transform) was originally hosted in Utrecht city centre, attracting global coverage last summer (see this blog).

Transform’s Steve Rolles gave the keynote presentation on proposals for coca and cocaine regulation detailed in Transform’s 2021 publication ‘How to Regulate Stimulants: A Practical Guide’, also joining the closing panel on next steps for the initiative.

Steve Rolles Amsterdam cocaine

A key element of initiative’s future was the launch of the Amsterdam Manifesto - see below in full - acting as a rallying point to build solidarity between civic leaders and other stakeholders, and provide a foundation for information exchange, action and advocacy going forward. We would encourage sign-ons (and approaching other public figures to sign), particularly institutional voices and civic leaders. And we will keep you posted as this initiative develops.

"In all times and cultures, mankind has struggled with how to deal with drugs, recently leading to a war on drugs that follows from a prohibitionist view. Today, in Amsterdam, although we are successfully fighting crime, we realise that a war is not ended by just winning battles. A new approach is needed. Many cities around the world share our experiences and realise it is time to explore other paths. The conference ‘Dealing With Drugs’ explores these paths.

Drug policy solutions such as regulation may seem complex and sometimes out of reach because international cooperation is needed, but the times are changing rapidly. Together, we’ll be able to take the steps towards a more rational drug policy."

Femke Halsema, Mayor of Amsterdam

The Amsterdam Manifesto:
Dealing with Drugs

January 26th 2024, Amsterdam

We, a diverse coalition of administrators, policymakers, scientists and civil society representatives, are united in creating more humane drug policy. This means prioritizing the well-being of all impacted by the multifaceted challenges of illegal drug markets and the associated health, social and economic harms. Together, we focus on an integrated approach to drugs, taking into account public health, human rights, social justice and safety.

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 organized crime, escalate violence, disproportionately affect vulnerable individuals and societies, and disrupt economies. We seek to break this vicious cycle by embracing pragmatic, evidence-based policies that acknowledge the realities of drug use and drug markets.

Recognizing the failures and human rights violations caused by punitive drug enforcement, we pledge to adopt health-focused policies that emphasize harm reduction, decriminalization and the regulation of drug markets. These policies are aimed not only at safeguarding public health and human dignity, but also at fostering social justice.

As we transition towards a health-focused drug policy, our resolve against the criminal control of drug markets remains steadfast. Exploring a different approach does not imply a relaxation of efforts against drug trafficking and related crimes. We are committed to dismantling criminal networks and ensuring they do not exploit or dominate this sector, thereby safeguarding public health and upholding the rule of law. Our strategy is a balanced fusion of law enforcement and public health initiatives, aimed at ending the dominance of, and eliminating the risks posed by criminals in drug markets.

Guiding principles

  1. Effectiveness as policy compass:
    Drug-related policies should be guided by their effectiveness in delivering public health, human rights, social justice and sustainable development.

  2. Regulatory alternatives and risk mitigation:
    Recognizing the limitations of punitive drug laws, we advocate for exploring regulatory market alternatives to mitigate the risks associated with illegal markets. Legal regulation of drugs can provide opportunities for education and safer consumption practices, thereby promoting public health and reducing harm.

  3. Public health, social policy and addressing underlying issues:
    In addition to reducing stigmatization, responsible legal regulation can redirect government resources towards effective prevention, treatment and harm reduction services. Our shift towards a public health approach, including drug decriminalization, aims to address not just drug use, but also root causes such as stigma, socio-economic inequalities, and social injustice.

  4. Cautious implementation:
    Policy development should be cautious, scientific and evidence-based, guided by rigorous monitoring and learning from regulatory scholarship.

Our pledge

  1. Strengthen a global movement:
    We aim to connect existing networks worldwide, bringing together visionaries to foster a revolution in drug policy.

  2. Charting the course with scientific evidence:
    Our path forward will be illuminated by a thoroughly crafted research agenda, driven by facts and grounded in data.

  3. Harvest global knowledge:
    We commit to learning from the best practices of cities, communities and nations worldwide, turning these lessons into tools for change.

  4. Embrace courageous decision-making:
    Recognizing that progress demands bold steps, we are prepared to venture beyond the familiar, making informed choices to navigate pioneering policies.

Our resolve

We are a coalition of innovators committed to meaningful change, dedicated to protecting our communities and upholding the rule of law against criminal threats. Our goal is to shape drug policies that are grounded in evidence, empathy and effectiveness. United, we strive to bring hope and humanity to the forefront of the global fight against drug-related challenges.