Annual dance event in Amsterdam raises questions about drug policy

The Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) Festival, to be held next week from Oct. 14 to 18, has grown into the largest club festival in the world. Over 360,000 visitors from all over the globe are expected to join the 300 events expected in 80 different clubs and venues in the Amsterdam area. The program features artists from the biggest names in the world to up-and-coming talents and everything in between.

Drumcode event presented by Awakenings. Photo credit:

Drumcode event presented by Awakenings. Photo credit:

Around 91 percent of hotels and B&B’s in Amsterdam’s greater area are fully booked for the upcoming event. Beside a lot of positive attention for the Netherlands, the event brings up another, rather difficult point to discuss: drugs.

Dance events and the use of hard drugs such as MDMA and XTC are inextricably linked together. In 2014, four people died as a result of using XTC during the ADE events. The casualties drew international attention to the event, mostly negative comments.

This year, the event’s organizers promised more focus on the health and wellbeing of visitors. Jellinek, a Dutch addiction clinic, has made a promotional video for tourists discouraging the use of substance during the event. Beside offering addiction treatment programs and general information about all drugs, Jellinek has labs where you can get your drugs tested. During the event they will open a special testing location in the city center where visitors can get their drugs tested for free.

As it appears, many tourists have misconceptions about the drug policy in the Netherlands. Drugs are, as they are in the rest of the world, officially illegal in the Netherlands. However, the narcotics act of 1976 distinguishes between soft drugs and hard drugs. Soft drugs, like marihuana, are tolerated. Still, possession, dealing, selling, and the production of any drug are punishable by law. When it comes to soft drugs, a tolerance policy is active. This means that being in the possession of drugs and buying or using drugs are violations, but these violations are not actually prosecuted.

Even though the usage of hard drugs is punishable by law, the city of Amsterdam announced that there will be no ‘zero-tolerance’ policy during the event. A spokesman for the city said that experts have advised against such a policy. When a zero-tolerance policy is active, people are expected to use drugs in dangerously high quantities before the start of an event, which would result in more critical situations.

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Opinions about this policy are divided. Some say a dance event without drugs is a disappointment and that prohibiting the usage of drugs will not make people stop using them. Having a zero-tolerence policy might even be more dangerous because of the large amounts of ‘unsafe’ drugs that are offered on the market. Talking about drugs openly and offering to test drugs are the best ways to help people have a safe experience. Testing also offers the government the opportunity to keep tabs on the kinds of drugs that are circulating.

However, others say that by spreading information and testing drugs, the government would be stimulating people to start using them. A zero-tolerance policy, they argue, is the best solution because it is important for people to realize that drugs are in fact dangerous and illegal. When implementing a zero-tolerance policy, there is a clear message, and over time people will accept it.

Opinions differ and the discussion remains ongoing prior to the festival. But ADE organizers promised to do everything they can to keep all visitors safe and make sure everybody enjoys the event, whether with drugs or without them.

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Ilse Wijnen

Recent graduate in BSc. Business Administration and Tourism Management at TIO University of Applied Sciences. "To me, GYV is a great initiative because it reminds me to look at things from a different perspective. Writing forces me to read and research and that makes me see things in a very different light!"