Rotterdam’s mayor Aboutaleb recently sought out the international media with his message that the acceptance of the use of drugs like cocaine leads to corruption, violence and misery in the city. In The Guardian, the mayor stated: “This is because cocaine has mainly been used in the higher echelons of society. And that has been seen as less serious, just as crime in higher echelons is often seen as less serious. There is an advanced form of acceptance and socialisation around cocaine.”

One in eight students have experience with cocaine, according to a survey by the National Drug Monitor. The monitor is an initiative of the Trimbos Institute, the mental health knowledge centre. We don’t know the state of staff at universities; unfortunately, the Trimbos doesn’t keep track of that. The institute reports that use among young people is on the rise – more so than among adults. Moreover, the Netherlands scores higher than other countries in Europe. Discussing cocaine use is not easy and seems taboo. Yet a debate on acceptance and socialisation should be possible.

Walking onto the campus grounds from the tram, I pass a line on the street saying, ‘smoking prohibited’. At the coffee machine at the faculty, disposable cups have been exchanged for sustainable mugs. Every now and then, there are debates at the university about the need for vegetarian or even vegan food and drink offerings. These are issues that were often seen as moralising and patronising in the past but are now widely debated. Personal lifestyle seems to be increasingly becoming a subject of public debate.

The ‘higher echelons of society’ the mayor spoke of also includes us, students and staff of Erasmus. The university that encourages us with the slogan: ‘Creating positive societal impact’. Mayor Aboutaleb wants to crack down on drug criminals, but so far this has achieved little. Another option is to legalise cocaine, to get it out of the hands of criminals, but it is questionable how good this would be for public health. In any case, what helps is reducing cocaine use: without consumers, there are no criminals. If we decide that discussion on smoking, meat or the use of disposable cups is not patronising, why should a debate on cocaine use be?

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