For decades, when the world has thought of legal weed, Amsterdam has immediately come to mind. But marijuana is still not legal in the Netherlands. All the excitement surrounding the legalization of recreational weed in some U.S. states and Canada, got us thinking. Everyone was talking about Canada being the second country and Uruguay being the first to take the leap into full legalization, and we wondered, What’s the story with the Netherlands?
Marijuana in the Netherlands, since the 1970s, has famously operated off a tolerance policy. But get this: it’s still illicit, and it’s not legal to grow, either. Even the CBD laws are a little strange and confusing. But before we start judging, let’s take a look at how it all came about. And where things might be going with cannabis in the Netherlands. For a long time, recreational use was a Netherlands thing, but cannabis is showing up on a global level, now. A learning curve is inevitable, and all players will have to adjust.
Why Gedoogbeleid (Tolerance Policy)?
Why is the Netherlands so lenient on marijuana that foreigners can travel to parts of it, go into coffee shops, order it off the menu, and ingest it on the premises—and yet this country still does not make marijuana legal? There are two reasons:
- Believing they could not stop marijuana, the government wanted to control it.
- The UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 prevented the Dutch government from making cannabis legal.
The Netherlands first adopted drugs laws in 1919 with the Opium Act. For decades, it was very strict with all drugs across the board. But in the 1970s, lawmakers decided to take a more pragmatic approach. It seemed silly to punish someone with 10 grams of cannabis the same as someone with 50 grams of heroin. They began by dividing drugs into two categories: List One for hard drugs and List Two for soft drugs. Cannabis, of course, was a List Two drug.
Eventually, officials wanted to completely decriminalize cannabis, hoping to free up police resources to deal with the heroin problem. However, the Netherlands was a signatory on the UN Single Convention in 1961, an international treaty that aimed to combat drugs through the coordinated efforts of many countries. Legalizing cannabis would have been a violation of the UN treaty.
Therefore, Gedoogbeleid, which means “tolerance policy” was born. Though it remained illegal, the penalties for marijuana were lowered, but as long as certain guidelines were followed, the government ignored minor possession.
The tolerance policy operates primarily by licensing and ignoring the sale and use of marijuana in Coffee Shops.
Coffee Shop Rules
Coffee shops are the cannabis retailers in the Netherlands. If they want to continue to operate and be tolerated by the government, they must adhere to certain regulations, including:
- No more than 30 grams may be sold at a time.
- There can be no trade in hard drugs.
- No selling to minors.
- Coffee shops cannot advertise.
- They must not cause a disturbance or become a nuisance.
- They must be within a certain distance of schools.
Although the Netherlands has had this system of tolerance for cannabis in place for decades, there has been some recent reigning in of their loose policy regarding cannabis.
In April 2018, the Hague became the first Dutch city to prohibit smoking marijuana in its city commons areas. Residents have complained and officials have determined that the tolerance of cannabis in certain areas has had a negative impact on residents and visitors. Alcohol has already been banned in the 13 specific areas of the city in which cannabis will now be banned. Violators will be subject to a fine.
Officials cite stronger strains of marijuana and less-culturally aware tourist for the need for the change in policy. Many coffee shops along the border are banned from selling cannabis to tourists. Some have suggested that this only drives tourists to seek out criminal drug dealers on the street, who also offer a selection of harder drugs.
The current disequilibrium between tolerance and control is not the Netherlands’ only issue. There is also the problem of tolerating the sell of a substance for which the cultivation and production is illegal and not tolerated.
To Grow or Not to Grow
Only select producers are allowed to grow marijuana for the young medical marijuana program in the Netherlands, and they may only supply pharmacies. Five plants for personal use is tolerated, but only one growing apparatus (e.g., grow light, hydroponics grow tent, etc.) is allowed. Indoor growing needs more than one apparatus. Anyone found growing over five plants will be prosecuted.
What does this mean? It means that coffee shops are illegally filling their inventories. There is no legal supply chain in the Netherlands. Selling out the front door is tolerated, but the only way to get it in the back door is to purchase it from criminals who grow and produce it illegally—a practice for which there is not tolerance.
Not only is this lopsided system of operating keeping retailers on a legal tightrope, it also doesn’t allow for quality control of the substance. If the Netherlands allowed cultivation, quality assurance could be implemented. And drug dealers would have to compete, or they would at least not be so in demand as the only link in the supply chain.
Currently, there is legislation in play that would implement a pilot program for cultivating and selling cannabis for a regulated supply chain. But that will certainly take time to play out.
Hemp and CBD
Growing hemp in the Netherlands with the intent to produce fiber or seeds is legal. CBD possession, however, is illegal but tolerated. Dutch people can purchase it online. But extracting CBD oil from hemp violates narcotics laws. This is a remnant from older laws. Hash oil (cannabis oil) was too strong to be a List Two soft drug. For that reason, it is still illegal to extract oil from cannabis, even though the law was created because of the psychoactive nature of THC, which CBD does not possess.
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“CBD and Dutch Legislation.” RawCBD.nl. Web. Accessed 29 November 2018. https://www.rawcbd.nl/us/information/dutch-legislation/
Rizzo, C. “Cannabis Laws Are About to Change in the Netherlands.” Travel + Leisure. 20 April 2018. Web. Accessed 28 November 2018. https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-news/netherlands-getting-more-strict-about-smoking-pot-in-public
Schuetze, C. “Solving the Dutch Pot Paradox: Legal to Buy, but Not Legal to Grow.” The New York Times. 25 March 2018. Web. Accessed 28 November 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/25/world/europe/netherlands-marijuana-legaliziation.html