During my vacation last week one of the places I visited was the Netherlands.  I’m happy to report the country isn’t a lawless hellscape.  In fact, it’s a lovely place.

Apparently, it hasn’t been overrun with gangs of dangerous drug addicts nor has it become a crime ridden anarchistic wasteland where the only law is the thunderdome. Amazingly, none of these horrible things have happened to this small country, even though it has openly allowed the use and commercial sale of cannabis for decades.

In fact I found the Netherlands a wonderful place to visit, and talking with residents I came to believe it is also a great place to live. It is an extremely prosperous and well run first world democracy with a rich history and culture.

The reality is the data has shown the Netherlands’ decision to take an approach completely opposite to that of the United States’ misguided war on marijuana has worked out much better.

Despite marijuana being effectively legal in the Netherlands, the country actually has a much lower rate of cannabis use than the United States and several other countries with more draconian marijuana laws. According to the United Nations World Drug Report 2011 the Netherlands has an annual prevalence of use for people age 15-64 of just 5.4 percent. In the United States it is an incredible 13.7 percent.

Similarly the people of the Netherlands use fewer hard drugs. The annual prevalence of use for cocaine is just 0.6% in the Netherlands, compared to 2.4% in the USA. For opiates the prevalence rate is 5.9% in the United States but just 0.31% in the Netherlands.

The war on drugs approach has completely failed to stop the United States from having higher rates of use.  What it has succeeded in doing is create a massive prison population that is a huge drain on tax payer money. The incarceration rate in the Netherlands is less than on eighth that of the United States. USA has a prison population rate of 730 per 100,000 people compared to the Netherlands rate of just 87 per 100,000.

While it is not news that the Netherlands is a great country, it is very important to remind voters of this  while debating marijuana legalization in the United States.  If the United States ended its failed marijuana prohibition, it would not be some bold untested step into the unknown or uncertain future. It would simply be the United States following the decades old example set by the Netherlands, a very nice country with lower drug use rates and a much smaller prison population.

When voters oppose reforming our marijuana laws, they should know it means they think spending billions of dollars on arresting over 800,000 Americans a year for marijuana is somehow a price worth paying to prevent America from simply becoming slightly more like the Netherlands.