The recent changes in the Dutch drug policy have raised many questions within Netherlands, but also abroad. The Netherlands has been considered to be the Mecca for cannabis smokers since the 70’s but most people don’t know that cannabis has never been 100% legal.
The Dutch government has had a policy of tolerance for the last 3 decades, allowing licensed cannabis café’s to sell limited quantities of cannabis to adults. Each cannabis café, or “coffeeshop” as they are called in the Netherlands, is allowed to hold 500 grams of cannabis inside their establishment and to sell up to 5 grams to each customer. With this policy, the government has managed to keep the sale of cannabis away from the black market.
In a way this policy of tolerance seems to be working as the amount of people in the Netherlands that smoke cannabis is lower than in many other countries of the world. In the Netherlands about 5.5 percent of the population uses cannabis while in the UK 6.6 percent of the population smokes cannabis and in the USA this number is even higher with 14 percent of all Americans smoking cannabis.
The strange contradiction in the Dutch tolerant policy is that large scale cultivation of cannabis and buying or selling in bulk is illegal. You can get a 4 year jail sentence for large scale cultivation. The production and the sale of cannabis seeds, however, is legal and it is growing up to 5 plants per person is tolerated. Coffeeshops are allowed to sell cannabis but not to buy it, which has resulted in the so called “Back door problem”. As coffeeshops are not allowed to have more than 500 grams of cannabis/hash in stock but on some occasions could potentially be selling more than 10 kilos a day, cannabis has to be coming through the backdoor of the coffeeshops and be grown in large numbers by illegal growers.
Every year more than 6000 illegal cannabis plantations get busted in the Netherlands and every day new plantations are established in various sizes across the country. Some are established by students in small rooms, but some larger ones can be bigger than a football pitch. This cannabis is not only being produced to be sold in the Dutch coffeeshops – unofficial numbers state that the Netherlands are exporting more than 500,000 kilos of cannabis each year.
There have been different proposals by various National and local political parties to regulate the cultivation of cannabis. This would give the government the opportunity to raise taxes on the cultivation and sale of cannabis, but also it could give the government better control over the quality (and even the strength) of the cannabis that is being sold in the coffeeshops. There has been a significant increase of THC percentage in cannabis over the last decade, which the Dutch government view as a problem.
But the government has always shot down these proposals and is even taking steps in the total opposite direction. The Netherlands host about 660 coffeeshops which are serving smokers from all nationalities -Dutch or not, but the Dutch government has decided to change their policy to allow only Dutch citizens to visit these shops starting from the 1st of January 2013 in Amsterdam. The new law has already come into effect in the southern cities of the Netherlands from the first of May.
As more than 2.5 million tourists are visiting these parts of the country just to buy cannabis (we call these ‘drug tourists’, and they put a considerable amount of money into the Dutch economy), the government hopes to get rid of drug tourism by introducing a ‘Weed Pass’. This new policy has received a lot of criticism from the Dutch society as it re-opens the doors for street dealers to start selling cannabis to tourists. Although the Minister of Justice claims it is certain that the new policy will also come into effect in places like Amsterdam starting from the 1st of January 2013, it could be that now after the fall of the Dutch government back at the end of April, the newly elected government might turn back the policy. Discussions are in progress about whether the new law is a form of discrimination, and medical marijuana usage is being acknowledged by doctors in Holland and many other parts of the world also. The face that medical cannabis should be available to users may just be the savior for cannabis users in the Netherlands. But just to be sure, if you have always wanted to visit one of the famous Dutch coffeeshops, we advise you to do it fast.
Note from ISMOKE: We have heard rumours of a £10 megabus from London to Amsterdam – We will post details soon!