Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for July, 2019


Posted by butalidnl on 14 July 2019

Gedogen (verb: gedoog) is a Dutch word which literally means ‘to allow’.  This is when the government declares that while something may be prohibited by law, the police will allow people to do it (to some extent). A prominent example of this is the case with drugs. People from other countries have the impression that drugs are legal in the Netherlands; but they are not – they are actually technically illegal. Parts of the Dutch Anti-Drug law are ‘gedogen’, i.e. tolerated. This include: carrying drugs for personal use (up to 5 grams), growing up to 5 marijuana plants at home for personal use, and the operation of coffeeshops which sell marijuana or hashish up to 5 grams per customer.  Stores that sell equipment for growing marijuana (‘grow shops’) are also gedogen.

Prostitution also used to be ‘gedogen’, where it was allowed in specified areas.  Now, prostitution has been legalized.

Why not just change the law?
The Dutch practice of having a law, and then gedoog parts of it, seem strange. Why not just pass a law that specifies what is legal or not, and then implement this strictly?
The practice of gedogen is actually a more effective way of handling public policy than simply having laws. It makes it possible to fine-tune or make swift adjustments to the law when necessary. And this is easier to do than adjusting the law every time.  Gedogen gives flexibility to local governments, some of them can be more restrictive of drugs, e.g. not allowing coffeeshops to operate there, while other municipalities could experiment with injection-centers, where addicts avail of heroin from the government, and in exchange adhere to a strict code of conduct (resulting in ‘well-behaved’ addicts).

Laws are made by the national parliament, while implementing rules are often made by the national and local executives (i.e. the cabinet, mayors).  The latter can act quickly, and can precisely tailor the gedoog policy.  Crafting a law is a relatively long and tedious process, while gedoog policy can be made much more quickly, and can be adjusted for specific occasions or periods.  For example, some municipalities prohibit (or, not gedoog ) the selling and use of the XTC drug during music festivals.

The parliament has recently passed a law prohibiting the use of the burqa (a Muslim full-face veil) in public buildings. Amsterdam, however, declared that burqas will be gedoogd in their city.  This means that burqas will be prohibited everywhere else.  If circumstances change in Amsterdam, they could quickly just change their policy.

The practice of gedogen started in the 17th century in Amsterdam. The country had strict laws against prostitution due to the Dutch’ Calvinist beliefs.  However, with the influx of lots of traders to the city at that time, the Amsterdam government decided to allow prostitution in order to keep the traders happy (and not molest their women). Rather than legalizing prostitution, the city then decided to just tolerate it.




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