The Netherlands has long been considered a leader of progressive drug policy, but it is increasingly being left behind by policy innovations outside Europe. Nonetheless Dutch cities are leading the way towards more progressive and locally adapted cannabis policies. Produced as part of a the "New Approaches in Harm Reduction Policies and Practices" project, this Country Report seeks to understand the drivers of Dutch cannabis policy today, and the possibilities for its future.
A narrow majority in the Tweede Kamer, lower house of parliament in the Netherlands, supported a motion to not allow municipalities to experiment with cannabis cultivation: 75 parliamentarians voted for, 70 voted against.
Ministers should sanction experiments to legally grow marijuana under licence and the city should make preparations to do so, according to a majority of Amsterdam city councillors. All VVD councillors in the city back the move. The VVD's position in Amsterdam is notable because VVD justice minister Ivo Opstelten has said repeatedly he does not favour regulated production and refused to sanction experiments. Meanwhile, the upper house of parliament came a step nearer to approving legislation which will make people who have helped illegal marijuana growers guilty of a criminal act. (See also: Coffeeshops want say in Amsterdam marijuana production)
The Dutch government's cannabis policy has created a monster whose tentacles are spreading throughout the country, according to Paul Depla the mayor of Heerlen. Depla, one of 35 mayors who want production of marijuana to be legalised, said that government policy is making it far too easy for people to become criminals. 'Under the current policy, all you need is an attic and you can start growing marijuana,' Depla said. 'This has created a monster with tentacles that reach everywhere.'
Labour senators are refusing to cooperate with the Dutch government's tough line on marijuana and want to sanction regulated production trials. Senator Guusje ter Horst told television show Nieuwsuur that the entire soft drugs strategy needs to be overhauled. In particular, efforts need to be made to remove marijuana from organised crime. Justice minister Ivo Opstelten has said he will not give in to pressure to allow controlled marijuana growing, despite calls for change from dozens of mayors.
Cannabis is the world’s most widely used illicit drug. But for how much longer? In a short space of time we have moved from absolute global prohibition of the drug, with the emergence of legalised and regulated production and retail not in just one nation (Uruguay) but also, surprisingly, in two US states (Colorado and Washington). Do these and other new permissive models in Spain and Belgium, for example, point to a tipping point in the debate? Could cannabis step out of the shadows and join the ranks of alcohol and tobacco, the world’s most popular legal and regulated drugs?
Cannabis was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” and hardly any therapeutic value. Ever since, an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime’s strictures through soft defections, stretching its legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits.
Misunderstandings and misreporting of actual and proposed changes to Dutch cannabis policy in 2011 have led some opponents of cannabis reform to suggest the country is retreating from its longstanding and pragmatic policy of tolerating the possession, use and sale of cannabis. This is not the case. In reality, most of the more regressive measures have either not been implemented, have been subsequently abandoned, or have had only marginal impacts.
In a manifesto, mayors of cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht argue that the current laws allowing the sale but banning the cultivation of marijuana mean the nation’s cannabis cafés have to turn to illegal gangs for their supply, encouraging organised crime and wasting valuable police time dismantling unlawful plantations.
In total, 35 local authorities have signed a manifesto calling on the government to sanction official experiments with legal marijuana production. The council leaders argue regulated growing would end the grey area between semi-legalised sales in cannabis cafes and illegal supply by criminal gangs. The signatories include the mayors of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Utrecht and Groningen. 'The current situation is unsustainable,' said Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb.
Alle 25 Nederlandse burgemeesters die verzoeken hadden ingediend om te experimenteren met gereguleerde of gedoogde aanvoer van cannabis naar de coffeeshops, kregen als Kerst cadeau van minister Opstelten van Veiligheid en Justitie (VenJ) te horen: “nee, nee en nog eens nee”. En in zijn brief aan de Tweede Kamer klinkt tussen de regels door “en hou nou toch eens op met zeuren want dat gaat echt niet gebeuren”.
Some 20 years ago, a Spanish official in favor of lifting the ban on drugs such as marijuana mentioned at a UN meeting that there "might be a more humane option" in the fight against trafficking. She was immediately taken aside by a senior diplomat, who told her in no uncertain terms: "Don't say things like that round here, not even in the washroom." Today, the same official says that internal documents are now circulating within the UN that openly admit to the failure of prohibition.
The mayors of 25 Dutch local authority areas have increased their pressure on the cabinet to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production. The initiative is being powered by the mayors of Eindhoven and Heerlen and a Utrecht alderman, the Volkskrant said. The manifesto is a reaction to justice minister Ivo Opstelten’s decision not to approve experiments with regulated growing. (See also: The Netherlands is ready to regulate cannabis)
Barely a week after an opinion poll showed that 65% of the Dutch are in favour of regulating cannabis production just as in Uruguay, the minister of Justice and Security of The Netherlands, Ivo Opstelten, told parliament that he will not allow regulated cannabis cultivation to supply the coffeeshops in the country. Two in three large municipal councils back regulated cannabis cultivation, but the minister will probably not allow a single one of the 25 proposals to experiment with regulated cultivation that have been submitted.
Interview Sebastián Sabini: "Het gaat ons om een totaalaanpak. Legalisering moet samengaan met preventie, met voorlichting en een sterke naleving van de regels. Wiet moet geen commercieel product worden als Coca-Cola, waarvan de reclames je vertrellen dat je er mooi en gelukkig van wordt terwijl het ongezond is. Nederland is een voorbeeld, vooral vanwege de voorlichting. Maar jullie systeem heeft gaten. Omdat de teelt illegaal is."
This is a guide to regulating legal markets for the non-medical use of cannabis. It is for policy makers, drug policy reform advocates and affected communities all over the world, who are witnessing the question change from, 'Should we maintain cannabis prohibition?' to 'How will legal regulation work in practice?
The D66 Liberal party, currently the second biggest party in The Netherlands in recent polls, is drawing up draft legislation for the regulated production of marijuana. At the moment it is illegal to grow marijuana. This means there is a grey area between the official policy of turning a blind eye towards possessing small amounts of marijuana and the supply to coffee shops. (See also: Majority of the Dutch favour cannabis legalisation)