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Monday, April 13, 2009

The Dutch Drugpolicy - 'Het Gedoogbeleid'

Millions of tourists visit Amsterdam each year. One of the main reasons is because of the attitude the Dutch have towards the possession and consumption of cannabis. The Netherlands, and specifically Amsterdam, is known for its liberal and progressive Drugpolicy.

The Drugpolicy of The Netherlands is difficult to explain to others who are not that familiar with the Dutch political and legal system.

We will try to explain the situation around the Dutch Drugpolicy with the following questions/answers:

Is cannabis legal in The Netherlands?
Is the cultivation of cannabis legal in The Netherlands?
How do coffeeshops get their supply?
What are the rules for coffeeshops?
Is there a chance The Netherlands will make cannabis completely legal in the near future?
What about harddrugs?
How about psychedelic mushrooms and those so-called ‘smartshops’?

Is cannabis legal in The Netherlands?

Let’s first get the biggest mistake made immediately straight:

Lots of people think cannabis is legal within The Netherlands. Well, it’s not…

In The Netherlands the substances which are commonly seen as ‘illegal drugs’ are divided by law into 2 groups: harddrugs (List I) and softdrugs (List II). Cannabis is seen as a softdrug. Within the Netherlands there is no active prosecution against the individual users of softdrugs, but the substances itself maintain illegal. The Dutch created for this their own official ‘Policy of Tolerance’ (in Dutch: ‘Gedoogbeleid’).

The government formulates it way more difficult, but in streetterms you can just explain it as an official ‘closing of the eyes’.

This Policy of Tolerance does have its limits:

- It is not allowed to possess more then 5 grams of cannabis.
- For cultivation you may not exceed the amount of 5 plants

When you exceed these limits the tolerance stops and there will be some legal charges against you, when busted of course. So if you just follow these limits above you won’t have to worry about legal troubles at all.

Is the cultivation of cannabis legal in The Netherlands?
No. The cultivation of cannabis is illegal in The Netherlands. The cultivation of cannabis may get you in big legal troubles when busted.

But of course the Dutch have also their tolerance here. It is tolerated to have a maximum of 5 plants at home. There is one extra rule on this: you may only grow these at home on a non-professional level. So this means no special lights, special boosting soil etc. Professional setups with plants in them are always illegal, no matter how many plants are in there.

How do coffeeshops get their supply?
The cultivation of cannabis is illegal in The Netherlands. So actually it falls out of the sky right below the counter of the shop. Very strange, but these miracles happen all the time.

Now seriously…

This is the main problem with this whole Policy of Tolerance thing.

Keep in mind that:

- The cultivation part is an illegal activity. (5 plants on a non-professional level doesn’t do much for a coffeeshop)
- The distribution part from growing room to coffeeshop is illegal (the maximum of 5 grams allowed…)

And there it comes: coffeeshops are allowed to have 500 grams in their shop and are then allowed to sell it.

How is that possible? Well, logically seen it’s not, but hey, we’re in The Netherlands here. The cultivators and distributors have to do their work in an absolute secrecy; when they get busted they can get serious legal problems. But at the moment the cannabis is behind the counter of the coffeeshop the illegal problem is solved somehow.

This situation gives shopkeepers huge headaches. The shopkeepers, no matter how much they try to follow the law, they always have to deal with ‘criminals’ to get their supply of cannabis. Besides these headaches, this whole situation actually just completely misses all logical sense.

Of course this is something also the Dutch politicians realize. Recently the discussion came up again in the Dutch parliament to accept the controlled cultivation of cannabis for coffeeshops. There was even a small majority for it in the Dutch parliament. But unfortunately the Dutch government decided against it. The pressure of other countries was probably irresistible. So for now, we’ll keep sticking the head in the sand.

What are the rules for coffeeshops?
Coffeeshops have to follow some very strict rules:

- No commercial expressions of any kind, except the word "Coffeeshop" or something similar on the outside of the building. 
- No harddrugs. It’s not allowed to sell or have harddrugs within the coffeeshop.
- No nuisance at any time. The following is considered as nuisance: noise, cars coming and going, customers hanging around with no goal etc.
- No entrance and no selling to persons under 18.
- It is not allowed to sell more then 5 grams a day to 1 person.
- The stock of cannabis within the coffeeshop may not exceed the amount of 500 grams.

Coffeeshops have to follow these rules very strictly. If a coffeeshop does not follow one of the rules, it can be shut down very easily with not many possibilities for the owner to complain.

Coffeeshops are having a hard time at the moment with the current government. The rules are described in such a way that there’s lot of space within the law to shut a coffeeshop down and the government is often using that space. All coffeeshops get irregular checks once and a while to see if they follow the rules correctly.

Most coffeeshops try to follow the rules as good as it possibly can. Sometimes this means that they have to reject customers for several reasons. If a shopowner wants to keep his store they have to act a bit paranoia sometimes. Please don’t be offended if you have to show your ID over and over for example.

Is there a chance The Netherlands will make cannabis completely legal in the near future?
Not very likely.

Cannabis is illegal within The Netherlands at the moment and the rules for coffeeshops became stricter the last few years. This is mainly, what we believe, because of the pressure of other countries. If cannabis would be made completely legal, it would make The Netherlands a complete outcast. The Netherlands is a very small country, depending on a lot of other countries. The issue of cannabis is just not important enough to put the relationship on the line with for example… well, let’s say…France, Germany and the US.

But cannabis is a substance which is ‘a sort of accepted’ within the Dutch society and gets more accepted every day. The Dutch society might even be ready yet for a complete legal status of cannabis. Whatever newspaper or magazine you read, whatever TV program you watch, you can just smell the growing acceptance of cannabis.

So in our opinion the chance of getting a full legal status of cannabis is out of the Dutch league at the moment. But somehow, we hope and think the Dutch will or may be the first to stop with outlawing cannabis in the long term.

What about harddrugs?
Cocaine, Heroine, XTC etc. You can complete the list yourself probably. These kinds of drugs are in The Netherlands on List I, so they’re highly illegal within The Netherlands. Just as in any other country…

There’s an active prosecution going on to dealers and people who possess harddrugs. Although small amounts of harddrugs will not get you in big troubles, it might ruin your Amsterdam experience, especially when you’re here for only a few days.

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