Amsterdam is lovely this time of the year, partly because it’s half empty.
The Dutch, flying yet again, have all gone away on holiday, to be replaced by tourists from all over the world. Some of them are from Britain, and it’s mainly for their benefit that the few Dutch who have remained at home have put up most helpful signs.
Appearing all over the city centre in either the new-fangled electronic or traditional poster format, they warn visitors from misty Albion of the local pitfalls:
“Caution,” scream the signs. “White heroin is sold in the streets as cocaine. Tourists in hospital. Three visitors dead. Beware of street dealers. If you see someone breathing with difficulty or not at all, call the ambulance on 112.”
Since the signs appear in no other language, specifically not in the mother tongue of Holland, one is left in little doubt about the intended target audience.
Actually, for once there’s as much French as English to be heard in the city centre, but the French don’t get the benefit of prior warning in their own language. Evidently they can be relied upon to know that heroin is taken intravenously (mainlined, in colloquial parlance), whereas cocaine is either snorted or, if freebased with ether, smoked.
The English are clearly assumed to be less sophisticated, or else more receptive to the hidden charms of this glorious city.
And there I was, thinking that the English go to Amsterdam exclusively to admire the paintings at the Rijksmuseum and ponder how interestingly Flemish architecture was transposed into a more northern idiom back in the 17th century.
Apparently not. They evidently also visit Amsterdam to buy white powder to snort up their noses and, when fraudulently given heroin instead, to start breathing with difficulty or, in extreme cases, to stop breathing altogether.
It’s also possible that unclad young ladies displaying themselves in dimly lit windows may exert an additional gravitational pull on our seekers of foreign culture. But this is only a guess.
What is a certainty is that drugs are everywhere in Amsterdam, and this creates such a welcome atmosphere of laisser-faire that the English absolutely have to breathe it in. Or snort it in, as the case may be.
Both cocaine and heroine are illegal in Holland, but the key point is that marijuana and hashish in various forms can be legally scored at most coffee shops that incongruously don’t purvey coffee as their principal line of business.
This ought to give some food for thought to our champions of drug legalisation. The example of Holland shows yet again that every perverse legislation eventually always goes a click or two above the legally acceptable behaviour.
Thus legalising euthanasia inevitably leads to the cull of patients who still have much life in them. I have it on good authority that old Dutch people are often scared of going to hospitals because they think the doctors will kill them.
Likewise, legalising abortion in extreme circumstances leads to hundreds of thousands of abortion on demand, actually millions in America every year.
As we have found out the hard way, extending licensing hours will lead to a huge increase in public drunkenness and generally swinish behaviour.
And legalising ‘soft’ drugs is guaranteed to make the ‘hard’ variety both more widely available and more fervently desired.
If in public perception cocaine and heroin are still a couple of stages away from universal social acceptability, legalising marijuana will remove one stage and shorten the distance between sanity and degeneracy.
The argument that legalisation will destroy the criminal infrastructure built upon illegal substances doesn’t quite wash either.
Fair enough, if coke and ‘horse’ are available at your friendly local chemist’s, criminals won’t be involved in the drug trade. So what do you suppose they’ll do instead? Become fund managers or stock analysts?
They’ll find other fields of endeavour in which to apply their talents, such as weapons, poisoned gases or slave trade. What the net social effect of such a career change would be is hard to predict, but even harder it is to believe that it’s guaranteed to be positive.
Sorry, have to finish now. We’re off to the Rijksmuseum, our first visit since it reopened. I’m fairly certain that nothing and no one will get up our noses on the way.