Medical Cannabis Users Losing Out in Holland

Despite legal access to ‘medical cannabis’, Dutch patients are being hit hard by the government war on coffeeshops. Campaigners have long maintained that the cannabis they can get from a pharmacy – Bedrocan – is of inferior quality, is too expensive, and doesn’t provide the variety needed to properly control their various illnesses and the symptoms that go with them.

The solution has always been the same – they get their medicine from a coffeeshop like everyone else. The price is lower, the quality (at least in some places if not all) is consistently higher, and they can choose the strains that are most suited to their particular set of circumstances.

Now though, thanks to a crackdown which has seen many coffeeshops close, they’re being forced to make a tough decision. Bedrocan is now cheaper than your average coffeeshop fare, so do they continue to pay over the odds for their medicine, or return to the pharmacies and put up with a poorer quality of cannabis.

The crackdown on recreational sales, led by anti-drugs zealots such as Justice Ministers Donner, Opstelten and van der Steur, has caused the price of your average gram of shop-bought bud to soar to €11 in Amsterdam, compared to €6.63 for a gram of Bedrocan’s medical cannabis.

The government may not be waging a war against medicinal use, but it’s the patients who are being hit the hardest.

This is, to put it mildly, an insane situation. The law in The Netherlands has always been decidedly Kafkaesque, with coffeeshops legally allowed to sell their product, but not legally allowed to purchase from growers or to grow their own supply. But unlike in the past, when the paradox was effectively ignored by the authorities, in more recent times a government offensive against growers has caused an exodus of suppliers to more lenient countries in Europe. What was once seen as a safe haven for cannabis consumers has quickly become a risky place to be.

As a result, those growers that are left in the country, and those who continue to import cannabis from elsewhere, have been forced to up their prices considerably to account for the increased risks involved. There is no shortage of weed available to coffeeshops, it’s just that they are having to pay more for it. In fact, due to another quirk in Dutch law, shops are even now, despite the much vaunted crackdown on growers, far more likely to close as a result of being caught with too much cannabis than they are to close because of a lack of supply.

This seems to be what happens when a country looks to support medical users, whilst simultaneously projecting a ‘tough-on-drugs’ stance to the rest of its citizens. The patients lose out. Should the Dutch government achieve its supposed aim of shutting down as many coffeeshops as possible, they will see a re-emergence of the black market (as happened in Maastricht when they tried to stop tourists from using coffeeshops), and patients will once again risk criminalisation and imprisonment should they wish to acquire the medicine that works best for them. Even with a legally available form of medical cannabis, most patients will lose out.

Deej Sullivan
Deej Sullivan is a writer and activist from the UK. He regularly writes on drug policy and politics for NORML UK, the UKCSCs, London Real, and his own blog,


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