Photos by Hanna Hekkert.
Last week, the Internet and its media outlets went batshit crazy over youth political party Liberal Democrats (D66) and their national board president, Dirkjan Tijs, concerning one of the more ballsy political strategies displayed as of late. The party made decriminalization of ecstasy into a reality for one day — Tijs and his party opened the world’s first and only ecstasy store in Amsterdam. It was a display of what a legal and government regulated storefront that sold MDMA could possibly do, carding minors and regulating dosages of the drug for its patrons.
Of course, the store didn’t actually sell real ecstasy. The storefront was a one day pop-up shop called MDMJA (“ja” means “yes” in Dutch”), sharing its name with the group’s political campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of MDMA drug and the positive affects it could bring to the government after its decriminalization. Placebos were sold instead of real ecstasy pills to showcase how the store would work.
The Liberal Democrats, sister organization of the Young Democrats of America, has close to 6,000 members, making it the largest political youth organization in the Netherlands. The group has close ties with the social liberal party in Dutch Parliament, and campigns for political casues, such as setting a higher pensioning age for retirees, fighting against data collection by governments, and of course, the legalization of ectasy. Dijs is essentially the group’s spokesperson, expressing the political party’s desire for legalization of MDMA for the world to hear.
ALBOTAS: Do you believe in decriminalizing all drugs?
Dirkjan Tijs: We believe the production, sale, and use of marijuana and MDMA should be fully legalized and regulated. This means that the government should license producers and sellers if they stick to certain rules and guidelines. While some of our members think all drugs should be legalized, it’s not our official stance right now — let’s do ecstasy first, thats more realistic.
The store performed as well as a placebo-selling pill store as a political statement could. The well-thought out front did age checks on its customers, selling placebos that were advertised as ecstasy and making certain that no other drugs have been mixed into the equation, such as heroin or PMMA, to ensure everyone was getting exactly what they needed. There was even an in-store help desk where people could ask for advice about taking ecstasy in less riskier ways, showcasing prevention of overdoses and bad trips through education.
ALBOTAS: Why legalize MDMA?
Dirkjan Tijs: We’ve tried to ban the drug and it didn’t work. There are currently 40,000 people in the Netherlands who use MDMA on a monthly basis. They all depend on black-market drugs from illegal street dealers.
Accidents happen because users are either uninformed or their pills contained other substances. You can prevent this by regulation. You can prevent minors from buying ecstasy, make sure people make educated choices toward the use of drugs, tax it and use the revenue for addiction treatment. Also, by removing ecstasy from street dealers, the youth will be less likely to get in contact with dealers who also sell tougher drugs, like heroin.
The same arguments are used for the legalization of marijuana, selling and use, which we already did in the Netherlands.
But what about the potential dangers of MDMA? What about those who died of overdoses on the substance? Well, those are either myth, or MDMA-related deaths that deal with other chemicals being added into a pill containing MDMA, not so much the pure drug itself. Pure MDMA alone is hard to come by these days.
ALBOTAS: I think the biggest reason why XTC and marijuana obviously differ for legalization is its safety. What precautions could the government take to regulate use of MDMA to ensure no overdoses or accidents?
Dirkjan Tijs: In 2014, seven people died here due to XTC use. In none of the cases were XTC itself the cause. In some cases, it was uninformed use (not drinking enough) or XTC mixed with other substances. In other cases, pills carried an overdose of MDMA — the amount per pill differs a lot, sometimes it’s four-times as much as other pills, and there’s no way to tell.
But even with regulation, you cannot guarantee complete safety. By regulating producers and testing the amount of MDMA regularly (and revoking licenses if a producer breaks that amount), we can prevent overdoses per pill. That doesn’t stop people from using too much — we can’t prevent everything — but, at least people who take too much will know.
“The reactions were huge, we had about a thousand people visit on opening day,” Tijs told me. On the morning of opening, members of the Liberal Democrats were surprised to see nearly 10 camera crews from all over the world waiting for MDMJA to open its shop to the public. “Since no political party is addressing this issue in parliament, we started a citizens initiative. With 40,000 signatures (we’re at 25% and just started last week), we put the topic on the parliamentary agenda.”
Of course, even with the positive publicity Tijs and the Liberal Democratic party has received through MDMJA, there still way more people who oppose the decriminalization of ecstasy. And to Tijs, that’s just fine. “We hope to break the taboo and gain support step by step for legalization.” Hopefully the political party made some waves around the world with a positive stance for the legalization of ecstasy that will influence others of the potential of government-regulated drugs.