Long known for its relaxed attitude to the use of soft drugs, the Netherlands is now taking experimental steps towards legalising cannabis production.
Ten municipalities will be taking part in a four-year trial where all their coffeeshops – where the drug may be bought and smoked – will only be supplied by regulated growers.
Currently, to the frustration of law enforcement and local government, personal cannabis use is tolerated but commercial weed cultivation is illegal. More than 550 coffeeshops nationwide are forced to operate in a “grey area”, buying from a criminal supply chain.
This week justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and health minister Bruno Bruins announced that all 79 coffeeshops in Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Hellevoetsluis, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Zaanstad will start the “closed supply cannabis experiment” in 2021.
The experiment aims to control drug strength and reduce related criminality – which a report earlier this week found to be out of control and “undermining” Amsterdam. “Protecting consumer health and vulnerable groups is top priority, and the experiment will pay close attention to prevention and providing information,” wrote Grapperhaus and Bruins in a briefing to MPs.
Paul Depla, mayor of Breda, told The Telegraph that it was high time the Netherlands sorted out inconsistent drug laws. “We are very happy that Breda can take part in the weed trial,” he said.
“More importantly, after years of knocking against closed doors in The Hague, we can leave behind its half-baked tolerance policy. It’s a policy that makes coffeeshops depend on an illegal market dominated by criminals, where the consumer knows absolutely nothing about the quality of the cannabis and how it is grown.”
Peter Schouten, a criminal lawyer from Breda, has started Project C Holding BV with a GP, socialist politician and a greenhouse specialist, and aims to grow 12 tonnes of cannabis a year for the trial.
"We started because we didn’t think the Dutch policy of legal sales from the front door and illegal ones at the back door was a good thing," he told The Telegraph.
"Up until now there has been no government control and one million consumers haven’t known what they are smoking or vaping. The most important thing is that we will make clean weed, the price will stay the same…and 30% of our net profit will go to addiction care projects, medical research and a university ‘professorship of weed.’"
Although Dutch police academic Pieter Tops, who visited Canada to learn lessons from cannabis legalisation, has warned that this has not removed organised crime, some addiction experts cautiously welcome the experiment.
Tom Bart, a senior prevention worker for addiction charity Jellinek, told The Daily Telegraph: “The pluses are that cultivation can be regulated and pesticides, moulds and drug strength can be controlled, while more money is raised for prevention and informing users of risks.
"The risk is that it contributes to higher use, but I don’t think this is too great as cannabis has been tolerated for a while."
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, are however not taking part in the trial because it was deemed too difficult to get all coffeeshops on board.
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