Cannabis policy in the Netherlands: What could they teach us?

When you think of Cannabis and the Netherlands you probably think FREEDOM- freedom to smoke pot, freedom to possess weed, freedom to grow Cannabis, freedom to manufacture Cannabis, etc. If you think any of those things about Cannabis policy in the Netherlands and decide to make a trip to Amsterdam for the express purpose of engaging in Cannabis, you are going to be very unpleasantly surprised. Cannabis is ILLEGAL in the Netherlands! Wait a minute that can’t be true BUT it is true. In this article, we will explore the Cannabis policy in the Netherlands and see if there are some lessons from their experience that could teach us something about this very popular subject of CANNABIS!

Weed legal in Netherlands-NO weed is NOT legal in the Netherlands!! Weed is, in fact, illegal in the Netherlands. If that is the case, then how about all of the information about Amsterdam Cannabis coffee shops that they are allowed to sell Cannabis? We will get to the subject of the Amsterdam coffee houses later but for now, let us explore the laws in the Netherlands regarding Cannabis.

The Opium Law regulates drugs in the Netherlands and according to the Opium, Law Cannabis is illegal. On the other hand, the Dutch government has generally adopted a policy of non-enforcement and allowed certain aspects of the Cannabis culture. The Opium Law dates from the First International Opium Conference held in the Hague, the Netherlands in 1912 and the First Opium Law was made official in 1919. The original law, as the name implies, was to regulate opiates and similar drugs with high addiction potential, high abuse potential and potential physical harm to drug users. In 1928, the Second Opium Law was introduced with the recognition of so-called “hard drugs” and “soft drugs.” In 1976 a decision was made by the Dutch government not to prosecute Cannabis or hashish violations of the Opium Law and later a series of limits was placed on Coffee Shops that wished to sell soft drugs such as Cannabis. Drugs and coffee shops.  The coffee shops are strictly regulated and licensed for the sale of soft drugs such as Cannabis and the regulations are as follows:

  • The presence or sale of Cannabis cannot be advertised.
  • The shop cannot sell hard drugs including alcohol.
  • No one under age 18 can enter such a shop.
  • A maximum of 5 grams of Cannabis per person, per day, can be sold.
  • A maximum stock of 500 grams is allowed for each shop.
  • Purchasers of Cannabis must be residents of the Netherlands.
  • The shop users cannot create a “nuisance” such as loitering near the shop or causing parking problems.

These regulations pertain to the so-called “front door” of coffee shops and not to the “back door.” The back door is the means by which coffee shops obtain their supply of Cannabis products. At present, it remains technically illegal for coffee shops to obtain a supply of Cannabis. Only a government program could be as silly and illogical as that but that remains the situation in the Netherlands, but an “experiment” is planned in an attempt to resolve this ridiculous situation. For now, though the Dutch authorities generally turn a blind eye to coffee shop purchases of small supplies of Cannabis by the public. Due to the illegal nature of the “back door” Cannabis production in the Netherlands has been increasingly in the hands of criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking. The real problem is that there is no official authorized system to supply coffee shops with Cannabis.

Since the statutory decriminalization of Cannabis in 1976 and especially in the past 5 years, various factions of the Dutch political system have proposed either liberalization of Cannabis laws or promulgation of even stricter regulations than now exist.

Amsterdam weed laws in 2019. A detailed and excellent description of these events is contained in “Cannabis regulation in Europe: Country report Netherlands” by D. J. Korf of the University of Amsterdam, Bonger Institute of Criminology 2019. In response to the “back door,” problem 60 mayors mostly from cities with coffee shops signed a manifest which proposed that if a national policy to regulate Cannabis cultivation and distribution could not be made then such a policy should begin at the local level. In March of 2018, an experiment was proposed by Dutch government ministers, based on a local rather than a national level, as a possible solution to deal with the “back door” problem.

The experiment was divided into three stages. (1) Preparation, which includes a selection of 6-10 cities to be the location of the experiment (2) The Experiment itself: within the legal context of the experiment, cannabis can be produced, be delivered to and sold in coffee shops in the participating municipalities. The experiment itself was to run for about four years. (3) Run-down: within approximately six months bringing the situation back to as it was before the experiment.

As of 2019, the experiment remains in the preparation phase. The experiment itself has not begun. There remains within the Dutch political establishment a conflict between conservative forces who favor increased enforcement to fight organized crime and more liberal forces who favor a governmentally regulated Cannabis market to solve the “back door” problem and in-so-doing to beat organized crime at its own game. A major reason to establish a framework for a legalized Cannabis system in the Netherlands is to develop a system which provides profit to those in the industry and taxes to the federal government. It is interesting to note that in states within the United States which have legalized Cannabis for recreational and medical use, the tax revenues have been much less than expected.

Amsterdam Cannabis coffee shops. Would you like to take a trip to the Netherlands to partake in the Coffee Shop culture and sample Cannabis? If you do, you might wonder about where to find a good coffee shop which would provide Dutch pot near me. One of the best places may be Barney’s Uptown and right across the street Barney’s Coffee Shop. There you can purchase Cannabis at the coffee shop and go across the street to “Uptown” and smoke a joint and also purchase alcohol and food at the restaurant. The two “Barney’s” get around the problem of the Dutch law which forbids the sale of alcohol and Cannabis by coffee shops by having you buy your Cannabis at the coffee shop but consume it across the street! Kandinsky and the Kashmir Lounge are two other “dual” arrangements where you buy Cannabis at one location but go across the street to consume it where alcohol and food are also sold.

If you are interested in the cultural history and uses of the Cannabis sativa plant you might want to visit the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum in Amsterdam or the Cannabis College Amsterdam which offers education on the many aspects of hash, marijuana and hemp.

I think that you can realize by now that the Cannabis policy in the Netherlands really doesn’t make any sense at all. On the one hand, Cannabis is illegal but on the other hand, it is openly available with the Dutch authorities taking a notably hands-off policy as long as the users of the coffee shop which sells Cannabis do not constitute a public nuisance.

How does the Cannabis policy in the USA compare to the Cannabis policy in the Netherlands? According to federal law in the USA THC containing Cannabis is categorized as a Schedule 1 Drug which means that it has no recognized medical value and a high risk of addiction and abuse. In spite of this federal law, 33 states in the USA now allow medicinal use of Cannabis and 11 states allow recreational use of Cannabis which contains THC. As with the Netherlands, one of the main issues favoring a state-regulated Cannabis system is the goal of profits and taxes. Unfortunately, the regulations and taxation have caused the prices available to consumers from legal Cannabis outlets to be so high that many people still turn to illegal but much cheaper outlets. As a result, tax revenues have been much less than expected. For instance, in California between April and June 2019 $74 million was collected by the state in Cannabis excise taxes which would project to annual revenue of about $296 million, far short of the original projection of $1 billion!

The conflict between federal and state laws in the USA has contributed to lower revenues from legal Cannabis businesses because most banks which are federally chartered cannot offer banking services to Cannabis businesses. Even in California where recreational and medical uses of Cannabis are legal, many municipalities have refused to allow Cannabis businesses in their jurisdictions. Consequently, the number of Cannabis businesses in the state is far lower than originally projected. Furthermore, the question of taxation of Cannabis businesses is not a simple one to answer. One author opines that no one, it seems, knows how to tax marijuana prudently.

The USA or the Netherlands: who is the fastest runner in the Cannabis marathon?? Both countries have confusing and conflicting Cannabis policies and the finish line for the business of Cannabis is still a long way off. Neither country is anywhere near the finish line.

When did weed become illegal in the USA? The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and the Controlled Substances Act of the 1970s made weed illegal in the USA. In spite of this, 33 states now allow the use of medical marijuana and 11 states allow both medical and recreational use of Cannabis. In 39 states in the USA, however, Cannabis remains illegal and prosecution of Cannabis growers, manufacturers, distributors, and users goes on but in states such as California, Oregon, and Washington, recreational use of Cannabis is legal and state laws regulate Cannabis businesses.

The proposed Cannabis experiment in the Netherlands is rather similar to the state legalization of Cannabis in the USA although it is interesting to note that the population of California alone at about 33 million is almost twice the population of the Netherlands at about 17 million. The proposed Cannabis experiment in the Netherlands would only involve 6 to 10 municipalities, a fraction of the population of the State of California.

Legal drugs Amsterdam. Another area of interest might be the situation in the Netherlands with regard to medical marijuana. Before getting into that question, perhaps we might consider the various possible medical marijuana compounds. The Cannabis sativa plant is estimated to have between 80 and 100 “cannabinoids” in its leaves. The primary, psychoactive compound in marijuana is THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol. CBD or Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive component which however is claimed to have many medical benefits.

European countries where weed is legal. Every European country has its own laws concerning Cannabis but Perhaps the shining example of a liberal policy toward Cannabis and all drugs if found in Portugal where all drugs are legal and you can carry up to 25 grams of Cannabis products. The tiny country of Luxembourg is on track to become the first European country to fully legalize the production and consumption of Cannabis. Other countries with liberal policies toward Cannabis are Spain, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. You can probably get by using Cannabis in Belgium, Estonia, and Russia if you are discreet.

Just to reframe the situation: ALL CANNABIS formulations INCLUDING CBD are illegal in the Netherlands, but medical marijuana can be obtained by way of a prescription from a physician since 2003. Medical marijuana in the Netherlands is under control of the Office of Medicinal Cannabis a division of the Dutch Ministry of Health, which has established guidelines for its use.  On the other hand, the Dutch Care Institute maintains that there is insufficient evidence of the medical benefits of marijuana to include the ability of patients to obtain it and have it paid for within the Dutch National Medical Insurance system. Contradictory evidence for the positive medical benefits of Cannabis has been published by the Dutch Ministry of Health!  Even when patients can obtain a prescription for medical Cannabis which seems to be increasingly difficult, the cost can be prohibitively expensive. One patient described paying 1000 Euros/month for her legally obtained medical Cannabis.

Well, there you have it: the Dutch Cannabis landscape, a mish-mash of regulations, uncoordinated, long out of date and inconsistently applied. The will of the public as evidenced by their governmental representatives is full of conflict between the forces of conservatism dedicated to strict regulation and maintenance of the illegal status of Cannabis and the more liberal forces which seek to regulate the business of Cannabis by way of laws which form a cohesive approach. The proposed “Cannabis experiment” has not gotten off of the ground and it is not clear that it ever will but it is an attempt to try out a well- regulated local system of Cannabis growth and distribution which might lead to a revision of national laws which currently regulate Cannabis in the Netherlands. Laws aside, however, you can certainly visit a “coffee shop” in the Netherlands and partake in Cannabis with little or no legal risk and perhaps a lot of enjoyment!

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