Europe Up in Smoke
Europe is often referenced in discussions about the sorry state of welfare services in the United States. Look at how the Europeans offer national health care, or free education through university, or generous paid vacations!
But as this article reveals, European nations are displaying very surprising amounts of poverty and infrastructure decay. Much of the poverty centers around immigrants. It turns out that the United States isn't the only place that relies on cheap, undocumented workers to maintain the lifestyles of most of the native born citizens. But for some Europeans, coming to grips with this reality is difficult since for so long Europe has prided itself on being a more tolerant and generous place, with governments that care to offer real social safety nets for their peoples. Social justice, and global justice, have seemed to be more valued there in the minds of many Europeans.
But global justice concerns seem to be sneaking up in many different ways.
Take the case of the Netherlands. For years, the Dutch have been proud of their decriminalization of "soft drugs". It has given rise to the coffeehouse culture, so infamous among visiting American college students, in which people are allowed to use small amounts of marijuana within the cafes.
The problems come from the issue of the "back door". Cafes can sell small amounts to patrons through the front door, but they have to have a supply come from the back door. However, the Netherlands doesn't allow pot plantations in the country. So there is a demand, but not a system for a big market suppliers. The result is that people are growing marijuana in neighboring countries, such as Germany, to sell in the Dutch market.
The concern here is not so much with illegal pot growing. Greater decriminalization throughout the EU could take care of that and there are signs that this might take place in the next few years.
The global justice concern is that the market for drugs in the Netherlands creates suppliers elsewhere and, in some cases, fuels criminal enterprises. The Dutch are very proud of showing how they have an extensive health service to deal with addicts, and they have very few drug related deaths, as well as lower drug use than most other EU countries. But the Netherlands is also a major transit point for drugs being grown by West African drug gangs. About 80% of the pot used in the Dutch coffeehouses is domestic, but at least 20% comes from other places, and increasingly, this means cartels who are using young men and women as drug mules and prostitutes.
This is not a worry unique to the Netherlands. After all, drug demand in the United States fuels the drug cartels from Mexico to Colombia and the bodies line up all over the streets of Juarez and Cali. But it does mean that under such conditions of global inequality, the individual freedom to toke up cannot be seperated from a concern with the enabling situations that bring the pot to the coffeehouse counter (or the college dorm room) in the first place.