Amsterdam isn’t Colorado, Mayor Hancock

On a trip that included a stop in London, the mayor of Denver met with municipal officials to gain information on the Dutch capital’s marijuana policies.

Perceptions about the Dutch capital vary greatly and a comparison of Colorado and Holland may show something different than one might expect.

One common misconception is that marijuana is legal in the country of Holland. In actuality it has been decriminalized, therefore tolerated, in private homes and certain establishments since the 1970s, but has never been legal.

The current laws in Amsterdam are more similar to that of Denver’s in 2012 and 2013 than they are to Colorado’s laws today. Residents of Colorado, over 21 years of age, may purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana; non-residents one quarter of an ounce. In Amsterdam, residents and non-residents may purchase up to 5 grams in cannabis cafes, although it is not actually legal. In Colorado it is legal to grow up to six plants in an enclosed space. In Amsterdam it is illegal to cultivate any number of marijuana plants, but those caught with five plants or fewer are seldom prosecuted.

In recent years the Dutch government has made legal changes less favorable toward marijuana use. Concerns were on the rise about drug tourism. People visiting the country to use marijuana, some of them causing problems and some of them transporting drugs back across the border.

Consequently laws were passed only tolerating sale by cannabis cafes to residents and citizens of the country. While this change has been welcomed by some city governments — many in border towns most effected by the drug tourism — others have taken issue with the new laws. The mayor of Amsterdam cited more than just economic concerns about the ban. Mayor van der Laan also stated his belief that the 1.5 million drug tourists who travel to the city annually would continue to visit and search out marijuana in non-regulated and more criminal environments. Due to the mayor’s reservations, the new laws are not being enforced despite having been upheld in Dutch federal courts.

The usage rates of marijuana among the Dutch citizens have always been low; much lower, in fact, than rates in the United States. For them, the stance on the subject has always had little to do with personal usage and has been more about controlling a situation. By tolerating the sale of what it classifies as “soft drugs” in certain types of establishments and then confining those establishments to certain neighborhoods, they limit the affected areas while deterring criminal elements.

Another modification in the stance of the country that decriminalized marijuana almost four decades ago is a change in classification of a strong form of marijuana. It was re-classified as a hard drug and therefore removed from the shelves of cannabis cafes.

It is noteworthy that after standing as an example of decriminalization for many years, no other country in the European Union has chosen to follow suit in Holland’s approach to soft drugs.

The reality is that Colorado and Washington’s marijuana laws are unprecedented throughout the world. Never before and nowhere else has it been legal to purchase marijuana for recreational use.

The border towns in Colorado and its neighbors are sparsely populated in comparison to the densely populated areas around Holland. A plan is under consideration to put up billboards warning of the penalties for transporting marijuana across state lines.

It is not yet known what kind of tourism will be sparked by the state’s new laws and there are still many questions that have yet to be answered as to where these tourists will be allowed to legally use marijuana.

Colorado is sailing into uncharted legal waters on the subject of marijuana. Even if Amsterdam is not an exact paradigm, we would do ourselves a disservice to not gather all information possible. We chose to surge ahead in this endeavor while still having many questions left to be answered, quite possibly a mistake. At this point, it is important for us to define the parameters of this new reality.

While we will most certainly make some missteps, we should do everything we can to avoid them.

Daniel Barela is a freelance journalist, widely published in Europe. His work has run in Austria Today, InMadrid and Screen International.


COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.