The country sounds, in fact, like a libertarian paradise, and the new documentary "Sex, Drugs and Democracy" plays like its campaign advertisement. The film visits with a series of judges, policemen, doctors, legislators and other members of the Dutch establishment, as well as with prostitutes, pot smokers, nude sunbathers and a "government hemp agronomist," who argues enthusiastically that, acre for acre, hemp (a.k.a. marijuana) produces three times more paper than tree crops (publishers concerned about the rising cost of newsprint, please note).
"The laws are for us. We are not for the laws," says Dr. Eddy Engelsman, the Dutch national director of Alcohol, Tobacco and Drug Policy. By creating a nation free of many of the laws that govern private behavior in the United States, the Netherlands has fewer drug deaths than other countries, fewer abortions, lower rates of teen pregnancy, a lower rate of AIDS and venereal diseases, one of the lowest murder and crime rates in Europe, the lowest imprisonment rate in the Western world and one of the highest life expectancies.
The law in the Netherlands seems more concerned with what you do to other people than with what you do to yourself. Prostitution, for example, is permitted as a contract between private individuals, and Dutch cities have regulated red-light districts. The government's interest is in enforcing health guidelines and prohibiting pimping and criminal exploitation of the prostitutes ("We need to be sure a prostitute can leave the business if she wants to," says a female legislator). By effectively decriminalizing many drugs, a police officer explains, the Dutch have removed the profit motive, thus making drugs less interesting to criminals and less glamorous to young people. "We don't have a crack problem in the Netherlands because there is no stepping-stone from pot to hard drugs," a lawmaker says.
The beat goes on: The Dutch have banned nuclear power. As a nation that has liberated half of its land mass from the sea, they are fanatic environmentalists. Small as their population is, it supplies 20 percent of the worldwide membership of Greenpeace. The national TV network includes the wildly popular "Gay Dating Game." Watching this documentary, made by American filmmaker Jonathan Blank, would be inspiring if it were not just a little too good to be true. We know from other sources that the Netherlands, while a successful and enlightened nation, has its problems, too; one of them is the unwanted population of young foreign visitors, drawn every summer by rumors of cheap drugs, who sleep rough in the public places of Amsterdam and make the city more threatening for its inhabitants.