Netherlands to Legalize Cannabis Cultivation
The Netherlands could be set to finally legalise cannabis cultivation, after a slim majority of lawmakers united behind a proposal to regulate the plant’s production, thereby ending the ‘backdoor problem’ that has hampered Dutch cannabis policy for decades.
Whilst thousands of tourists flock to the Dutch capital of Amsterdam every year to sample what they believe to be legal cannabis, the truth is slightly more complicated, and infinitely contradictory. Cannabis was never officially legalised in the Netherlands, but the sale of small quantities in so-called coffeeshops has, since the 70s, been tolerated, so long as these establishments do not also sell alcohol, and do not sell cannabis to anyone under the age of 18.
There are many other stipulations, including limits on the amount of cannabis any one person can possess (5g) and, since 2008, how close a coffeeshop can be to a school. This new regulation led to the closure of 43 coffeeshops in Amsterdam alone. However, the biggest hurdle, and greatest contradiction, of Dutch cannabis policy is that whilst coffeeshops can possess and sell cannabis to paying customers, the production of the drug and its distribution in quantities large enough to fulfil the needs of what is a huge market, remain illegal.
It is a problem which has hampered the industry for decades, for obvious reasons. In order for coffeeshop owners to keep their shops stocked and their customers happy, they are required to break the law, as are the people growing the “legal” product. Activists have long fought against this policy, and now it finally looks as though they may be making progress.
Draft legislation to regulate and legalise the cultivation of cannabis has been drawn up by Vera Bergkamp MP of the D66 party, and has been backed by GreonLinks and the Socialist PvdD. The Dutch Labour party have even backed the plans, in defiance of their coalition partner, the VVD.
Bergkamp told an NOS broadcaster: “You can buy weed but you can’t grow and transport it, and that is wrong. If we regulate it, that will be good for health and to control criminality. A large percentage of the population and local councils support this measure as well.”
Should this legislation come into effect, it would mark a significant change in direction for Dutch drug policy, which in recent years has been sliding back towards prohibition, rather than away from it. Indeed, whilst Amsterdam is still a hugely popular holiday destination for cannabis enthusiasts, it has seen its status as cannabis capital of Europe challenged by the likes of Barcelona and Prague, as their respective and improving cannabis policies have met the Netherlands’ policy on its way down.
This change of direction should not come as a surprise, however, given the Dutch experience in recent years. In 2012, Dutch authorities attempted to introduce a ban on tourists visiting coffeeshops, despite huge protests and lack of support from many local governments – most notably in Amsterdam. The ban nonetheless came into effect in certain provinces in the south of the country, but (as predicted by many) was a total disaster. Falling sales meant the closure of shops and the loss of jobs, whilst a surge in black market cannabis selling was blamed for an uptick in gang related violence and shootings. It did not take long for the ban to be overturned.
Just this week there was a reminder of exactly why the need for regulation is so urgent. Green Place coffeeshop – one of the most popular in Amsterdam – was shut down indefinitely by authorities after a drive-by shooting. Thankfully no one was injured, but this is far from the first such incident to occur in recent times, and is an all-too-real reminder of what happens when you leave half of the cannabis industry in the hands of organised crime. Regulation and proper legalisation cannot come soon enough.
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