Law Recently, the once liberal cannabis legislation in The Netherlands has changed a great deal. As a tourist, can you purchase weed in coffeeshops, or not? How many plants may you cultivate? What is the current status of cannabis in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands – Amsterdam in particular – has long been viewed as cannabis nirvana. In recent years, the once liberal cannabis legislation has changed a great deal. As such, other countries and American states are rapidly catching up with the Netherlands and the country is losing its progressive image on this issue. What is the current situation in the Netherlands? Can you smoke cannabis on the streets in Holland?
Legal aspects in terms of the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis
The origin of the Dutch tolerance policy
The Netherlands has operated under a so-called “policy of tolerance” since 1976 when the new Opium Act was implemented, which differentiated between soft and hard drugs. One of the main reasons for this was the serious heroin problem the country was suffering from. At the time, Amsterdam in particular was saturated with cheap heroin and that caused huge problems. Use of hash was also becoming more popular, but this hardly caused problems.
In 1972, the “Touwtrekken om hennep” (Struggle about hemp) report concluded that responsible cannabis use was feasible (as proven in practice) and comparable with alcohol and tobacco consumption. In the interests of public health and to free up police resources for the fight against heroin, the cabinet wanted to exclude cannabis and hash from the realms of criminal law as quickly as possible. The objective was complete decriminalisation, but that would be a long process due to international conventions. Meanwhile, cannabis use was decriminalised, making the Netherlands the first country in the world to do so!
The sale of cannabis
Despite the policy of tolerance, the sale of soft drugs remains an offence, but the Public Prosecution Service does not prosecute coffeeshops if they observe specific regulations, such as:
- A maximum of 5 grams may be sold per person;
- Stocks may not exceed 500 grams;
- Coffeeshops may not cause a nuisance;
- No hard drugs may be sold;
- No soft drugs may be sold to minors;
- Coffeeshops may not advertise soft drugs;
- Coffeeshops may not be situated within a 250-metre radius of a school.
Local authorities have the freedom to amend these regulations at their discretion and coffeeshops that breach the regulations are closed temporarily. Repeated breaches may result in permanent closure.
Possession and use of cannabis
Possession and use of cannabis is a criminal offence, but is tolerated in certain circumstances. An individual may carry a maximum of 5 grams of cannabis or hash without risk of prosecution. If found by the police, it may be confiscated and if you refuse, you may be detained. Possession of in excess of 5 grams may be construed as being for commercial use and carries a fine of up to €3,500. Possession of in excess of 30 grams is a crime that carries a maximum two-year prison sentence and/or a fine of up to €16,750.
Use of cannabis in public is not permitted. However, tracing the possession and use of small amounts is not a priority and is not actively pursued by the police. Particularly in central Amsterdam, the chance of someone who is using cannabis but not causing a nuisance coming into contact with the police is remote.
The cultivation of cannabis
The cultivation of cannabis is an offence, but 5 plants for personal use is tolerated. However, there is limit of one technical apparatus, for example, a hydroponics grow tent, grow light, or extractor system as two or more of those would suggest professional cultivation. Unfortunately, indoor growing generally requires two or more apparatuses.
Anyone found with 5 plants, but who is not a professional grower, will have the items confiscated, but will not be prosecuted. Five plants in a professional setting are questionable, while anything over 5 plants irrevocably leads to prosecution.
Medicinal cannabis in the Netherlands
The prescription of medicinal cannabis is permitted in the Netherlands, but is still in its infancy. Bedrocan is the only business commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport to produce cannabis legally to supply pharmacies. This means that while doctors may prescribe cannabis, they rarely do so. Many doctors are not yet sufficiently informed about the therapeutic effect of cannabis any many health insurers do not (yet) cover medicinal cannabis.
Hemp and cannabis seeds
Cultivating and processing industrial hemp with a psychoactive component of less than 0.3% is legal in the Netherlands, but the government must be informed. Dutch hemp production was introduced by Ben Dronkers in 1994 He recognised the potential of the plant and, driven by the ambition to produce an eco-friendly, economically viable, traditional crop in his home country, he established Hempflax with 140 hectares under hemp production. The business currently has around 450 hectares under production in the Netherlands, 550 in Germany and 700 in Romania.
In the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis seeds for growing plants that produce psychoactive substances is permitted. The seeds are considered no different from any other seed, but cultivation is limited to 5 seeds.
In 2013, well-known Dutch opinion pollster Maurice de Hond published statistics on the views of the Dutch people about cannabis decriminalisation. According to his research, at least 65% of the Dutch think the government should follow the example of Uruguay, which in 2014 adopted a law to regulate the use, cultivation, sale and processing of cannabis. Nevertheless, since 2010, the government has been heavily engaged in criminalising cannabis, while various countries and American states are actually adopting Dutch policy.
Useful to know
Corrosion of the policy of tolerance
The policy of tolerance was intended as a first step towards complete regulation. However, further steps were never taken, and the consequences have taken their toll. The biggest problem is that it is tolerated for coffeeshops to sell via the front door, while it is illegal for them to purchase via the so-called back door. Professional production is not permitted either. Thus, the system has created an operational business practise that is partly dependent on an illegal production and purchasing process that obliges coffeeshop owners to do business with criminals.
Regulation of production would steal the thunder of commercial producers and create a controllable production process. Instead, the government cracks down on commercial growers, while production is not decreasing. The regulations pertaining to coffeeshops are also being tightened, as a result of which no more than 600 of the 1500 former coffeeshops remain.
There is a great deal of criticism of the failing policy. Police resources are swallowed up combating cannabis, while other – in the eyes of many – more important issues are not dealt with. The judiciary too is becoming overburdened and all of this is costing a great deal of taxpayers’ money. However, the government has no intention of stopping and recently implemented the so-called Growshop Act and attempted to prohibit cannabis with a THC-content of over 15%.
In order to address supposed anti-social behaviour by tourists from other EU countries buying cannabis in the Netherlands, the wietpas (later the I-criterion) was implemented in the southern provinces of the Netherlands in 2012. That which many had anticipated became reality: tourists keep coming, but now buy from criminal, street level dealers who, in addition to soft drugs, also sell hard drugs and cause far more of a nuisance.
For now, the sales ban applies to non-residents in the provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland only. Despite the failing measure, the government still intends to implement it nationally. Many coffeeshops breach the regulation and many local authorities are strongly opposed to it.
Cannabis and the political parties of the Netherlands
The VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) has been in power since 2010. The party claims to be liberal, but headed by the Minister of Safety and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, the VVD is criminalising cannabis relentlessly, without being open to alternatives. Fortunately, there are a number of parties that support an alternative policy, for example, the PvdA (Labour Party), D66, Groen Links, the SP (Dutch Socialist Party), the PvdD (Party for the Animals), and the 50+ party.
In January 2014, the Joint Regulation was organised, in which over 50 mayors from various political parties and who had lost confidence in the national cannabis strategy, signed a manifesto to pressure the government to allowing experimentation with regulated cannabis production. Finally, more judges are increasingly refusing to defend the ill-conceived policy.
We now await the moment the democratically elected government bows to the facts, the will of the people and the judiciary.
If you would like to read more about developments in Dutch politics, see the suggestions below this article.