The Netherlands, and especially Amsterdam, has been the go-to place for cannabis enthusiasts for decades. Despite the Dutch government’s efforts to get rid of the reputation of being a stoner’s paradise in the 2010s, people all over the world still flock to Amsterdam’s coffeeshops when they want to enjoy marijuana in a seemingly legal way.
Most tourists believe that cannabis is legal in the Netherlands. But is that really the case? Read on to find out.
Cannabis is still illegal in the Netherlands
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands. Cannabis use has been decriminalised, and the possession of a small quantity of weed is tolerated by the authorities, but marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands. If an individual is caught in possession of up to five grams of cannabis, the authorities will most likely confiscate the weed without fining or prosecuting the individual.
However, the individual can still be fined and even sent to prison if the authorities consider that the cannabis use was a threat to the health of young people (for example, by using it near schools or on public transport.
Moreover, you’re not allowed to use marijuana in public. Given the fact that cannabis use has been decriminalised and the possession of small quantities of cannabis is tolerated, the Dutch authorities do not actively pursue these matters. But smoking in public can still get you a warning or a fine if you’re being a nuisance.
Dutch municipalities have the authority to prohibit or allow drug use in designated areas. Most municipalities that tolerate drug use prohibit it near schools, public institutions, public transport and public transport stations.
Growing your own cannabis plants is tolerated in the Netherlands, as long as you don’t grow more than five plants and you grow them exclusively for personal use. If the authorities suspect that you are planning to sell the marijuana you produce, they will confiscate your plants and might also prosecute.
Being caught with more than five plants in your possession is punishable. First offenders without aggravating circumstances might be sentenced to communal service, but the punishment can go as high as several years of imprisonment. Being part of a criminal organisation can extend the punishment even further.
It’s also a crime to possess more than five grams or to produce and deal with cannabis. Drug use of any kind has been decriminalised because the current stance of the Dutch authorities is to treat their drug offenders, not to punish them. But drug possession and drug trafficking will still land you in prison.
You might be wondering how coffeeshops are allowed to sell cannabis if selling marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands. Well, it’s complicated.
Cannabis trade is a legal abnormality in the Netherlands
The Dutch authorities see soft drugs, such as cannabis and hashish, as less damaging than hard drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy or heroin, and they treat them as such. In an effort to separate the soft drug trade from the hard drug one, the authorities tolerate the sale of soft drugs in coffeeshops. By adopting this stance, the authorities hope to prevent the general public from coming in contact with criminal drug dealers who might push hard drugs.
But despite the government’s efforts, a substantial part of the Dutch cannabis trade is still controlled by criminal drug dealers. And, sometimes, the laws themselves make this situation possible.
In the Netherlands, selling cannabis in coffeeshops is legal and often profitable, but growing and distributing it are not. Sometimes, coffeeshop owners or managers have to rely on the illegal cannabis trade to stock their shelves with fresh produce and keep their customers happy.
The current law puts coffeeshop managers in a precarious position. They’re allowed to sell cannabis, but they often can’t buy it through conventional means. This can force them to deal with drug dealers in order to maintain their business. And sourcing your cannabis from criminal dealers can also be a public health hazard. Unlike legal growers, drug dealers might not feel obligated to sell high-quality weed.
According to Hendrik Brand, the manager of a popular coffeeshop in Breda, he has to examine the cannabis he buys under a microscope to make sure that it’s not dangerous for his customers.
The complicated legal situation of cannabis has led to the growth of organised crime in the Netherlands. In a 2018 report, the Dutch national police union warned that organised crime has taken over the cannabis trade in many parts of the country. The report also mentioned that a parallel economy is emerging, fueled by the illegal drug trade.
The Dutch cannabis legalisation program
But the Dutch government is already trying to deal with this situation. The authorities started an experimental program that aims to explore the effects of cannabis legalisation, standardisation and taxation.
The program started in ten Dutch municipalities, but Amsterdam was not included. For the time being, the program was restricted to small- to medium-sized cities of 38,000 to 200,000 residents. The authorities chose these cities because they are small enough to make enforcement easy but big enough to support coffeshops.
Each of the municipalities included in the program will only allow the sale of cannabis products that are sourced from cannabis growers in the Netherlands. The coffeeshops in the participating cities will only be allowed to sell marijuana that has been monitored and tested by the authorities, and that has an accurate label of its tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels.
By creating a legal cannabis trade system, the success of the experimental program should serve as a template for other municipalities. But the process of finding legal growers and approving them seems to be a long one. The legal cannabis might not hit the shelves of participating coffeeshops until 2021.
And it will probably take some years until the authorities will apply the template to large cities such as Amsterdam. Until then, coffeeshop managers will have to make do as best they can.
Medical marijuana in the Netherlands
The Netherlands was the first EU country, and one of the first countries in the world, to legalise the use of cannabis for medical purposes. The country’s first initiative to make marijuana available to medical patients started in 1993. Then, in 2001, the Office of Medicinal Cannabis was created.
In 2003, the Dutch government allowed two companies to grow and process marijuana for medical use. One of the companies was Bedrocan, which is currently one of the most popular medical cannabis producers in the world.
Dutch doctors usually prescribe cannabis for patients suffering from Tourette Syndrome, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, symptoms associated with cancer and AIDS or for those who undergo treatments for cancer and HIV/AIDS. However, the doctors are allowed to prescribe cannabis for any condition, if the circumstances make it the best option for the patient.
CBD is not exactly legal in the Netherlands either
Cannabidiol (CBD) falls under a grey legal are in the Netherlands, so it’s not really legal. In fact, the production of CBD is illegal in the country, but people can use it legally for personal use.
At the moment, the production of CBD is illegal because it’s not covered by any law. Hemp growing and processing are covered by the Opium Act of 1999, when hemp was declared legal for industrial production. The act mentions that it’s legal to grow cannabis plants with a THC concentration lower than 0.2 percent, but it does not mention anything about hemp extracts such as CBD, essentially making them illegal.
However, according to the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) in the Netherlands, companies are allowed to use cannabis in their products if the amount of THC is lower than 0.05 percent, the product doesn’t make any medical claims, and the buyer is not advised to consume more than 160 mg of cannabinoids per day.
This means that CBD oil is legal in the Netherlands if it doesn’t contain more than 0.05 percent THC. Unfortunately, most mass-produced CBD oils that are legal in the rest of the European Union are basically illegal in the Netherlands because they have a THC concentration of up to 0.2 percent.
Will the Netherlands legalise marijuana?
The Netherlands is renowned for its progressive view on cannabis. The experimental program the country is currently running is proof that the government is looking into a way to make marijuana legal from seed to spliff.
However, cannabis will always be a heated topic in Dutch politics. The fact that Amsterdam is seen as the world’s stoner capital doesn’t do anyone any favours. While it’s true that cannabis is one of the reasons people visit the country, weed can attract the worst kind of tourists to the Netherlands. And some citizens have had enough of intoxicated tourists roaming on their streets all day and all night.
Even though some politicians will argue against it, the Netherlands will probably legalise cannabis for its citizens by 2030. But the country’s government or some of its local municipalities might also ban marijuana sales to tourists in an effort to avoid overcrowding and public intoxication.