On 11 November 2014, a majority in the Senate of the Dutch Parliament voted for a bill to make punishable the preparation of illegal hemp cultivation (‘Strafbaarstelling voorbereiding illegale hennepteelt’), popularly known as the Growshop Act. The Act comes into force on the 1st of March this year. Read the Act's content and consequences here.
On 11 November 2014, a majority in the Senate of the Dutch Parliament voted for a bill to make the preparation of illegal hemp cultivation punishable (‘Strafbaarstelling voorbereiding illegale hennepteelt’), which in the Netherlands is popularly known as the Growshop Act (Growshop wet). The Act comes into force on the 1st of March this year. Read about the Act’s content and consequences here.
Why the Growshop Act?
The Growshop Act stems from the Public Prosecutor’s (Openbaar Ministerie; OM) belief that it has too few means to take to court people who facilitate professional cultivation of cannabis. Currently, the OM has to be able to prove an organised association between the grower and, for example, the landlord of the site of cultivation, the supplier of seedlings and other necessities, or the electrician who installed the necessary electrics. If this connection is credible, the supplier can be accused of complicity and be prosecuted. The new Act provides these means, particularly in the case of growshops. These shops only sell legal growing materials, making it difficult to prosecute complicity, because the entrepreneur will always claim that he was not aware of the purpose of the products. The Growshop Act will bring a change to that.
How does the Growshop Act work?
The text of the new Article 11a in the Dutch Opium Act reads as follows:
He who prepares, processes, offers for sale, sells, delivers, provides, transports, produces or has at his disposal materials or objects, or has means of transport, areas, money, other means of payment, or data at its disposal, relating to which he knows or has serious grounds to suspect that they are intended for committing the punishable offences pursuant to the provisions in Article 11, paragraphs 3 and 5, will be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or a category 5 monetary fine.
This concerns the sale of materials and provision of services that make organised large-scale cannabis cultivation possible, as well as smaller growers who use professional equipment. It has to be absolutely clear that the materials and actions concern the professional cultivation of cannabis.
Criticism of the room for interpretation
The new Act is deemed gesture politics on the part of Ivo Opstelten, the minister of Security and Justice, on the basis that “serious grounds to suspect” leaves much room for interpretation, while precisely clear frameworks are needed for the administration of justice. As a result, it seems it would be particularly difficult for the OM to prove that a seller could have serious grounds for suspecting that a customer is going to cultivate cannabis on a large scale. All the more because over the last few years grow shops have amended their operations such that the link with cannabis cultivation has been eliminated – all products could also be used to grow other crops.
Nonetheless there are plenty of transactions that can be classified “seriously suspicious” according to the OM, such as selling a large batch of grow-lights that suggest professional operations, with the customer paying in cash and not wanting an invoice in his name.
Sentencing under the Growshop Act
If it can be established that someone has broken the new law, he can be sentenced to a maximum of 3 years in prison or a fine of up to €81,000. In addition, the OM has the option to start a criminal finances investigation to establish and claim unlawfully acquired assets.
Consequences for home growers
The provision of products for home growers remains beyond the scope of the Growshop Act; little has changed in this respect. Growing 5 cannabis plants for personal (medicinal) use is still tolerated, as long as no professional equipment is used to do so, such as artificial light or air filters. Opstelten has indicated that, depending on the circumstances, tracing such cultivation is a lower priority. This is also reflected in the limited number of people prosecuted after being arrested for a grow-tent and 5 plants, for example.
Nonetheless, this group is at higher risk. As the Act can be interpreted so widely, there is the chance that the sale of soil for flower pots on the balcony, together with a book on the A to Z of growing cannabis, will be seen as facilitation of professional cannabis cultivation.
Legal professionals, such as the Dutch lawyer Maurice Veldman, LL.M., who specialises in cannabis cases, emphasise, however, that the Growshop Act is exclusively intended to combat large-scale organised cannabis cultivation. How the Act will stand up and whether it will also be used to combat small growers will become clear from the 1st of March 2015.