August de Loor started working in poor parts of Amsterdam in 1968. He became a street corner worker. Many youngsters in the late 1960s were unemployed and living on the streets of Amsterdam. For them August became a person whom they can trust because, he tried to built a bridge between them and the society that they had many angers with. Part of the isolation of the people was because of the use of drugs that during that time became also part of modern youth culture. Since then he is involved in policy making and talks with the government. With his pragmatic approach he urged for legalized cannabis started needle exchange programs and is trying to legalize ecstasy. One key task is to monitor the drug usage and new substances coming on the market.
Over the last few decades what were some cornerstones of your involvement in the work on drug policies and regulations?
Modern drug use started with cannabis in the 1960s. Before that time drug use took place only among the higher-class people. Along with the revolution among students, the sexual revolution and the gay emancipation also a new independent youth culture started in the USA and Europe and cannabis became popular. Its interesting in alcohol related society around the world, there were more and more interests in also other psychoactive substances on a big scale. After cannabis, LSD, amphetamine, cocaine became popular and in the dark shadow of all that on street level heroin. And then by the start of the Techno music ( the big raves from 1985) the new drug trend XTC, in the 1990s mushrooms ( and other so called smartdrugs) and nowadays the designers.
I have seen everything related to drugs from the 1960s.
And since then my work was monitoring every new drug trend, why it’s happening and what can be done to protect the user with safe use! Its about harm reduction and how you can change the policy in regard to drugs in society.
You were involved in the conceptualization of the Dutch coffeeshop, how did this came about?
So in the late 1960s the cannabis became popular but you had to buy it on the street. There was on one hand a lot of anger and fear the police arrest the cannabis user and on the other you never knew the quality of cannabis. From there we started two things. First we worked in the youth centers where Rock and Roll and later on Punk happened for young people.
In those youth centers we organized so called „home dealer“ where the visitors could buy cannabis. So they don’t had to buy it on the streets anymore. With this system of “home dealers “ we could analyze his cannabis in a laboratory as a part of the safe use project. The construct of a “home dealer” made also sure that the kids would not come in contact with other drugs on the street marked such as heroin. But this system was still illegal. Very slowly we could convince the government to choose for a system where the cannabis is safe for buying and safe for using. So in 1976 the Dutch government had a revolution in the whole world that they take the cannabis out of the criminal situation and make a new law that it was acceptable for bying and smoking cannabis. That was the start of the Dutch coffeeshop, a safe system where you can buy and smoke cannabis, controlled by the rules of the government.
I am convinced that every psychoactive substance needs their own culture of using. The first thing to prevent the misuse of substances is to organize the culture around the use of psychotic substances. And this is what the coffee shop is for cannabis
Can you elaborate on your idea of a culture of using?
Alcohol by itself when you are alone at home is dangerous but it is not in the pub. Because there it has a social control by your friends, the barkeeper. For instance; when you close down all the pubs, the next day you have 50% more alcoholism in the world.
So the coffeeshop is the alternative for the pub but then for cannabis.
For me, the selling of alcohol and tabac has to go out of the supermarket and back to special shops like coffeeshops for cannabis. The same for XTC; legalize it by selling in smartshops And so you have a pragmatic policy where all this potential dangerous substances are sold through safe place and that in direct connection with our modern society. Many countries legalize cannabis but they forgot one thing, the benefit of coffeeshops.
There you share cannabis together in a social environment, just like alcohol in a pub.
That’s an exempel of a pragmatic drugspolicy. So like on the dance floor of big raves 90% of the visitors are on XTC. So we organized a pragmatic system for safe raves. I started testing XTC on the dance floor from 1986 till 10 years ago. More than hundreds of thousands of tablets I tested. So that’s pragmatic. And so you are a part of the culture of the rave and the ecstasy is a part of it. When you take the raves away and the ecstasy is on its own, then the ecstasy is dangerous.
When I tested dangerous XTC tablets on the dance floor for instance, we stopped the music. So 4,000, 6,000, 8,000 ravers, they had to stop dancing.
In one minute, I explained: „Watch out for the dangerous yellow Mitsubishi XTC tablet and bring it to my counter from the Safe House Campaign.“
And what I saw from the moment we stopped the music; from one minute to the other you had 8,000 ecstasy junkies on the dance floor. And from the moment the music starts again, you had 100% ecstasy lovers on the dance floor.
That’s the point, you see; the relation between the use of drugs and his cultural surrounding, in this case between XTC and Raves.
How could such a concept work for different drugs?
When you look to the modern society, a modern society nowadays is a society with many different kinds of people. Also in how you organized, how you build up a city, different kinds of housing: single people living together, living in communes, same you have in the sports. People have so many choices in western societies nowadays. And with this come different needs. You also find this when it comes to the use of psychoactive substances.
And you have to regulate that accordingly. Almost all over the world, only one drug is acceptable, alcohol, and the rest is forbidden. That’s middle-age. It has nothing to do with a modern society. You have the weekend party drugs: Ecstasy, MDMA – the most softly party drug – LSD, you have cocaine sniffing, ketamine, et cetera. So organize that through the week, you go to the smart shop an get your substances there.
In the smart shop, similar to the coffee shop, you will be able to buy ecstasy if they make it legal. And there the ecstasy is with information: you know what you buy, what is inside the substance and so on. In the 1990s the Dutch government was thinking of regulate and legalize ecstasy. I was with the ministry in a group. I suggested to bring the ecstasy into a strip you can enter when you are minimum 18 years old. And we introduced the concept of a trip advisor, someone who does not consume at the moment and watches over the group. The government nearly said yes to that, but then something happend that put the plan on hold.
Germany is planning to legalize cannabis what are your thoughts on that?
So for instance Germany, they are thinking also about legalized cannabis. They have to know that the most important key for regulate the use of cannabis is the coffee shop. The concept of the social club as Germany wants to introduce it doesn’t think of the social environment and that’s why it lacks a fundamental aspect. To be a member of the cannabis social club, you have to identify yourself. You have to give id, you have to organize so that you can plan the hennep plant for your own consumption. A lot of obstacles and huge thresholds.
For example I like to drink wine or I like to drink beer but why should I make it myself to have my own beer or make my own wine? I just want to consume it? I don’t have time for that. In France you can buy wine in the shop. But you have also people who like to go to the Château. If you have to be member of a Château to consume cannabis. A cannabis Château. It’s bullshit. Cannabis is after alcohol the most popular substance. The cannabis social club, as Germany suggests it, is only for the high-level people who wanna produce it themselves. All the rest of the cannabis consumers don’t have time for this!
After work, you like to have your joint, you want to talk with your friends and you meet them in the coffee shop before you go home or before you go to the movie. That’s the social environment of the second popular drug in the world. When I want to have my joint I go to my favorite coffee shop here 100 meters from here.
So my advice to Germany? Organize a network of different kind of coffee shops all over the country. Also in Holland you have coffee shops for the middle class, you have coffee shops for the Turkish people. You have even gay and lesbo coffee shops, you have tourist coffee shops, coffee shops with a lot of American influences. You even have a special coffee shop for the football fans of Ajax Amsterdam. This is similar to pubs to have your one favorite place to meet your friends!
In Germany and also in Austria there live so many different kind of people and you have so many different kind of pubs over there so you need also many different kinds of coffee shops where you can buy in a safe surrounding far away from the other drugs.
What did you do with for example Heroin?
There are no junkies in the streets of Amsterdam and in Holland anymore because 20 years ago, we started with medical prescription of heroin. We brought the heroin to the medical world. There it’s controlled. I think it has to be better and better. And it was also completely taken away from the justice system into the medical system. So I am convinced that for every drug you can organize something. A war on drugs, what is for almost all countries in this world the reality, you always have losers. Everyone is losing by the war on drugs.
So when I saw in the early 1980s that among the intravenous heroin users who are shooting the heroin, there was a lot of hepatitis. I started with the needle exchange programs.
You see, so when one year later the AIDS/HIV crisis started we already changed needles, where the official institutes years later followed ( to late to fight an epidemic). And then you also don’t have the needles in front of the kindergarten and on the streets anymore. They call in the city to pick up the old needles, bring it back to my system and then they can get new ones. So that was a really big success in fighting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. In Holland the HIV/AIDS among the intravenous heroin users is only 1 or 2%. In Russia its like 85% of the users. So that’s another example of what I mean with pragmatic approach.
Some things for the future?
Stop with the disgusting pictures and texts on the packages of cigarettes that they are dangerous. You’re dying and your lungs are black and so on. Come on. It’s a psychoactive substance. People like to smoke tobacco. So bring it to a special shop where you can talk about the benefit of tobacco. Don’t put all that craziness of dying in because that’s the opposite of having a good solution to the situation. We have to stop with the word drugs altogether. From the moment the word drugs is coming in you have the associated fears.
„Oh drugs…“. So I think you have to talk about psychoactive substances who are part of society because people like to have it.
For one it’s ayahuasca in a session for another one it’s going out together by 10 to the parks and have a weekend on LSD. The word „drug“gives no room, there are so many different kinds of drugs.
And we should start the ministry of happiness. Because it’s all about happiness, but there are risks on it, too. Every happiness has its own risks. And we have to watch that and minimize the risk. You neither achieve that with the moralising finger-wagging nor with a war against drugs.