It's no secret that illegal drug use continues to be a problem in the United States, but a trillion dollars has been spent on the war on drugs. Many argue the war on drugs has failed and new solutions are needed.
In Season 3 of "The Wire," police majors, who each control a district, are asked to start cooking the books to make the mayor look better by manipulating the crime rate. This includes making crime disappear or reclassifying it to a lesser crime. Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin decides to take a different approach. He's not going to cook the books. He's going to adopt a brown bag policy when it comes to drugs. This concept refers to drinking in public. If the alcohol is in a brown bag, it can't be identified as alcohol and, therefore, isn't a problem.
Colvin tries to move drug dealers to three specified zones away from schools. In these zones, drugs are essentially legal. The police will ignore the drug use and not arrest anyone, assuming there is no violence. At first, it doesn't work because the dealers move back to their old corners. Street level dealers are moved to the safe zone, deemed Amsterdam. Unfamiliar with Amsterdam, it is called Hamsterdam there after. When it doesn't work, police try harder to move them to Hamsterdam and get them off their usual corners. Eventually, it begins to work. The results are impressive. Crime rates start to decrease around the entire district. But, Hamsterdam can't remain hidden forever.
When the police commissioner finds out, he immediately reports to the mayor. Bunny is dropped to a lieutenant and forced to retire, and Hamsterdam is shut down, eventually. The mayor's office waits a few weeks to do it because Hamsterdam is working and it offers unique opportunities for public health. With everyone concentrated in one place, condoms and clean needles can be distributed to prostitutes and addicts. Hamsterdam begins to fall apart when a person is murdered there, and the place can't be hidden any longer from the media.
Naturally, the question has to be asked. Is this a possible solution to the drug problem facing the United States? Sadly, the answer is no. There is a precedent for this in Zurich. It was called Platzspitz Park, but it eventually became known as Needle Park. Here, drug use was essentially decriminalized in a similar fashion as Hamsterdam. The result was an unregulated drug haven. Drug prices became outrageous, public drug use was everywhere, and there was no needle exchange. Furthermore, Hamsterdam failed because it didn't have full police support. Violence was bound to happen, and dealers would fight over limited space. Overall, it's an interesting idea, but it's hard to know how Hamsterdam would work out in a real world situation. Likely, it wouldn't.
"The Wire (season 3)" Wikipedia.org
"Why Zurich's Bad Idea on Drugs Went Wrong" New York Times
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