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Dutch MPs Back Cannabis Cultivation Bill, But Senate Approval Needed

A majority of MPs in the Netherlands’ lower house of parliament have backed a bill that would legally regulate the cultivation of cannabis.

The bill, put forward by the left-wing D66 party in August 2016, authorises the mass-production and sale of cannabis, with a permit.

The bill was narrowly passed on 21 February by legislators in the Netherlands’ House of Representatives – the parliament’s lower house – with 77 MPs in favour and 72 against. However, the bill also needs to be passed by the upper house – the Senate – prior to becoming law.

Currently, small quantities of cannabis may be purchased at “coffeeshops” around the Netherlands. Possession for personal use is tolerated by authorities, but coffeeshop vendors continue to acquire their produce from the illegal market.

This has left the cannabis trade in a legal purgatory; their “front door” transactions are treated as legal, while their “back door” supply stream is criminalised.

“You can buy weed but you can’t grow and transport it, and that is wrong,” said Vera Bergkamp, the D66 MP who initially proposed the bill.

“[Regulating it] will be good for health and to control criminality. A large percentage of the population and local councils support the measure as well,” she told the Dutch Broadcast Foundation last year.

Indeed, a 2013 poll suggested that around 65 per cent of the Dutch public would support the “production, sale, and consumption” of cannabis being legal and regulated. In June 2016, almost 90 per cent of Dutch municipalities supported a call for the national government to permit regulated cultivation trials.

The current approach to cannabis may be driving violence in the Netherlands, as many producers and suppliers operate in the criminal market. As TalkingDrugs reported in November, there were seven drive-by shootings at Dutch coffeeshops in 2016.

Speaking after today’s vote, Bergkamp described the bill’s passing as "an important step to end a stalemate that has lasted far too long … if you take the course of no resistance, nothing will change".

"Whether you like it or not, drugs are part of our society," she added.

If the bill passes through the Senate, where it does not currently have majority backing, the Netherlands would be the third country in the world to announce plans to legally regulate the production, supply, and purchase of recreational cannabis – after Uruguay and Canada. 

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