After making the Dutch angry by calling their drug policy disastrous, U.S. drug policy chief Barry McCaffrey is characterizing the debate as a disagreement between friends.
"Friends are allowed to disagree," McCaffrey said Monday in a press briefing. He returned over the weekend from an eight-day trip to view treatment programs and drug-fighting efforts in Sweden, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, England and the Netherlands.McCaffrey's trip was overshadowed by comments he made a week earlier calling Dutch policy an "unmitigated disaster." The comments prompted an outcry from Dutch residents and a harsh letter to McCaffrey from the Dutch ambassador to the United States.
In sharp contrast to the United States' zero tolerance drug policy, the Dutch have a laissez-faire policy. Marijuana and hashish are technically illegal, but the sale and consumption of small amounts of these drugs in "coffee shops" are tolerated by Dutch authorities. Hard drugs like cocaine and heroin cannot be sold that way but are also cheap and easily available.
McCaffrey sought to downplay the incident Monday.
"There are areas of agreement between the Netherlands and the United States," McCaffrey told reporters back on his home turf. "I listened very carefully to their ideas." But he said U.S. treatment policy should be based "not on ideology but on science."
McCaffrey said he was most impressed by the availability of methadone treatments for heroin addicts and wants to increase this country's capability to offer them. But he warned that they must be monitored closely to prevent diversion into mainstream population.
"It can kill you deader than a doornail if you take the normal dosage rate for a heroin addict."