Since it is increasingly clear that the new cannabis policy of the Dutch government is not working, more and more local councils are taking matters into their own hands. These developments cannot meet with the approval of the watchdog of the new policy, the Minister of Justice, Ivo Opstelten. Is the Netherlands copying the American approach here?
In 1996 California was the first state in the United States to legalise medicinal cannabis. This was a historic moment, as it is well known that the U.S. plays an important role in the global ban on cannabis and the overall failure that is the War on Drugs. After California, more states followed, until now as many as 20 of the 50 states have legalised medicinal marijuana and two of them – Colorado and Washington – have recently even decriminalized recreational use. The federal government of the U.S. never agreed to this. Under federal law, cannabis is on the list of banned substances and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must ensure that citizens do not violate drug laws.
For years this paradox has caused friction between local state governments and the federal government. However, the disobedience of these states and the clear signal that radiates from it is paying off. On Thursday August 29th 2013 the government of the United States released an important announcement: the federal government will not interfere in the plans of Washington and Colorado to legalise cannabis, provided that the states adhere to certain rules. This is another historic breakthrough.
Meanwhile, the once so liberal country of the Netherlands is slowly but surely killing its revolutionary cannabis policy, ironically under the rule of a liberal party. Read more on this subject here and here. However, it seems that several local authorities in the Netherlands are increasingly rejecting the national legislation, almost like in the United States. The city of Utrecht is leading. While Opstelten seems determined to criminalize the entire cannabis branch, Utrecht wants to start an experiment with non-commercial cannabis social clubs to decriminalise the use of cannabis. Opstelten is strongly opposed, but the driving force behind this experiment, Utrecht’s alderman Victor Everhardt, has been continuing the preparations for some time now. On the 10th of September he released a progress letter detailing concrete plans.
The Utrecht experiments
The letter presents, in a nutshell, two experiments that will soon see daylight. Firstly, the town will set up a social club: the Cannabis Social Club Domstad (SCCD). This is a not-for-profit foundation allowing 100 adults to grow cannabis for personal use in a responsible environment. This ensures a high degree of control, in particular over the quality, and that is a great gain compared to coffeeshops. For them, it is tolerated to sell small amounts of cannabis for personal use (only in the southern areas is it forbidden to sell to foreigners). However, their purchasing process is still illegal and therefore coffeeshops are often forced to do business with criminals who usually believe that profit is more important than quality. In short, the Social Club will both decriminalise the growing process and improve the quality of the end product.
The second plan is an experiment in co-operation with the Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg (GGZ= Mental Health Care) including a group of addicts who live on the streets, are suffering from chronic psychotic disorders and have a cannabis dependence. They will receive a cannabis strain produced by the Dutch company Bedrocan (which is legally allowed to grow medicinal marihuana) through the Bureau voor Medicinale Cannabis (= Office of Medicinal Cannabis) to provide them with cannabis that decreases rather than strengthens psychotic symptoms, anxiety and insomnia, as it contains lower rates of THC and higher percentages of CBD.
Obviously, the anti-cannabis Minister of Justice disagrees with Everhardt’s plans. In his progress letter the Alderman writes:
“Especially the Minister of Justice, Opstelten, has announced several times that he will instruct the Crown Prosecution to intervene with the Cannabis Club. The intention of the Board of Utrecht is not to solicit or incite acts that this Minister can bring to court. The belief of the Board that a cannabis club is possible within national and international frameworks – an analysis that is supported by various experts – will not change.”
The beauty of Everhardt’s plan is the way the Ministry of Justice is bypassed. The application for exemption of the Dutch Opium Act, requested on Wednesday September 11th 2013, will run through the Ministry of Health and this seems to be putting Opstelten to one side.
Everhardt: “The primacy of public health was and still is the basis of the Dutch drug policy. Since 1976 this principle is the unchanged basis of the drug policy, as the federal government explicitly confirmed during the treatment of the main drugs letter in the Lower House. This principle makes the Minister of Health the main interlocutor for local initiatives and also makes the Opium Act the legal framework for testing the club model. In particular Article 8, which contains provisions that can lead to an exemption on the Opium Act by the Minister of Health, in the interest of public health.”
Meanwhile, the cities of Leiden, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Tilburg and Leeuwarden also said they are thinking about legalising cannabis cultivation in clubs, or even already have plans to do so. Of course, Sensi Seeds will follow these developments closely.
Coffeeshop certification in Haarlem
Haarlem also launched a new initiative involving the local government and the coffeeshops of this city. While the policy of Opstelten is breaking down the coffeeshop industry brick by brick, this initiative revamps a number of coffeeshops in Haarlem. The project includes a certificate for coffeeshops; the result of three years of consultation between the municipality, the police and the Haarlem coffeeshop entrepreneurs. The first eight coffeeshops will receive their certificate on the 9th of October 2013 at the City Hall of Haarlem, from the hands of Mayor Schneider. The certificate was created by a special committee, including representatives of the city of Haarlem, the Haarlem police department and various organisations like Stichting Drugsbeleid (=Foundation of Drug Policy), the Gemeentelijke Gezondheidsdienst (GGD = Local Public Health Services) and consumers group We Smoke.
One of the criteria for receiving this certificate is an access system that is only open for people who have shown that they are 18 years or older. This will void the distance criterion as stated by Minister Opstelten, which states that the distance between a coffeeshop and a school has to be at least 350 meters. Also the employees will have to follow five different courses, such as training for dealing with aggression. With the certificate, coffeeshops are allowed to have a larger stock and there is more transparency in the penalties if these rules are violated. The city of Hilversum has already announced their willingness to implement the certificate for its coffeeshops as well.
Sensi Seeds is delighted that a city council, the municipality of Utrecht in this case, recognises the differences in cannabis strains, especially the difference between THC and CBD, and has even applied that knowledge to its projects. More awareness of the differences between various types of cannabis strains and the consequences this has on their effects is something Sensi Seeds encourages at all times. The company also supports all initiatives that contribute to the normalisation of the plant. Sensi Seeds will follow the developments in Utrecht as well as in Haarlem.