If there's one thing that got your attention in dance music this week it was most likely all the press outlets stating that the government of Amsterdam was allowing people in the city to carry up to five pills of ecstasy on their person during Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) without fear of legal repercussions.
Maybe you saw this headline: "ADE will allow attendees to carry 5 ecstasy pills without prosecution." Or this one: "Amsterdam Expanding Drug Tolerance Policies During ADE." Hell, even we originally published a similar headline, but have since updated it.
Inthemix said Amsterdam raised the pill limit "for the course of ADE (14 to 18 October)." XLR8R did the same, saying, "The new relaxed policy will exclusively last throughout the duration of the festival." The list goes on and on.
So, while many of you were probably wishing you were at ADE right now getting turnt with the squad, perhaps some were suspicious that drug policy was altered specifically for a music festival.
Are the Dutch really trying to raise their profile for drug tourism? Don't they make enough money from windmills and clogs?
We spoke to Jan Paternotte, a member of Amsterdam's city council, which helps oversee the city's drug policies, to explain what all the fuss is about.
THUMP: Is the five pill rule that's recently gotten so many headlines new or has it been the law for some time?
Jan Paternotte: Well, it's not a law, but it's a policy, and it's been the policy for a couple of years now. It's only started to get attention this time around. I don't know why, but for some reason everyone started talking about the five pill policy.
So this wasn't a recent change?
No. This was not a recent change.
Everyone touting this headline has been saying it's a special law that was put in effect for ADE—
The fact is that it's specifically for Amsterdam and this policy does not apply outside of Amsterdam. There are some major festivals, the most famous festival in the Netherlands is Lowlands, but it's outside of Amsterdam and the policy there is much different. The policy there is if you carry around more than just one ecstasy pill you will get a criminal record.
Did your party (the Social Liberal "D66" party) enact the drug policy in Amsterdam?
Well, we are the main party in Amsterdam now. We have 14 seats out of 45 in the city council, but the drug policy is actually the responsibility of the mayor and the city council can approve the drug policy.
When it comes to whether you give someone carrying around ecstasy pills a criminal record, that's a conversation between the mayor, the public prosecutor, and the police together. After that, it can be approved by the city council, but the mayor does not necessarily need to put it up for approval. The city council did approve this policy, reapprove it actually, this spring.
In terms of self-harm, five pills is just as dangerous as 10 pills, if a single individual is carrying them around. Is this number five just to differentiate between users and dealers?
That's right. We call less than five pills "not a dealer amount"; I'm now translating from Dutch literally. If it's over five pills it's considered an amount that a dealer might carry.
How do you respond to the criticism that no single person should have five pills for use anyways?
Well, that depends because having one pill doesn't say a lot about the amount of MDMA that's in the pill. It could be 300mg; it could be 75mg, and if you require people to carry around fewer pills, what usually happens is that the amount of MDMA in a single pill will increase, which is not very healthy.
It's strictly to separate dealers from users and also to prevent having this adverse effect of having very strong ecstasy pills.
Is it correct to say that there has been absolutely no change in Amsterdam's drug law that has happened on account of ADE?
That's true. But, the fact is that we are now providing more information in English, because many people who visit ADE don't speak Dutch and don't read Dutch. Last year most the information was only available in Dutch and the victims [of drug overdose] were mostly non-Dutch speakers.
We're also offering testing, which is new. The city government is collaborating with Jellinek [a drug addiction and counseling resource centre].
So you've adjusted the drug policy to provide testing—
But the five pill limit is not new.
What is your party's position on drugs in the Netherlands?
What we would actually prefer to do is legalize drugs in the Netherlands for the simple reason that we've seen that the war on drugs has never worked. I think the dance scene is a very good example.
Our conclusion is that we should take on the dealers and that we should brief or inform people who use ecstasy at these dance festivals. The reason is quite simple: the people who visit these festivals think that for some reason ecstasy and dance have to go together.
By being hard on the dealers, but not on those who just enjoy ecstasy, we've got a more realistic approach.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.