In EU First, Netherlands to Trial Recreational Cannabis Cultivation

The sale of small quantities of cannabis in coffeeshops is tolerated in Netherlands, but the shops are supplied by the illegal market

The sale of small quantities of cannabis in coffeeshops is tolerated in Netherlands, but the shops are supplied by the illegal market. (Source: Kevin Gessner/Flickr)

Dutch ministers have outlined plans to regulate cannabis cultivation in certain parts of the Netherlands for a trial period.

In a letter to the Dutch Parliament published on 9 March, two senior ministers - justice minister, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, and medical care minister, Bruno Bruins - outlined plans to allow the legal cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes in several municipalities for four years. The document outlines that a specially-appointed commission will consider how the cultivation should be carried out and overseen, and report back to the government by the end of May. Following this, Grapperhaus and Bruins will decide how the scheme should be implemented, and select 10 municipalities in the country in which it will be trialled.

No municipalities will be required to trial the scheme, but several local leaders have already expressed interest. The mayor of Rotterdam is among dozens of local authority leaders who have asked for their area to take part in the trials, Dutch News reports.

The ministers’ letter denotes that the trial will take place in three phases:

  1. Ministers will designate up to 10 municipalities which may legally regulate cannabis cultivation.
  2. Cannabis cultivation will begin in the designated areas, with the produce being delivered to cannabis coffeeshops. Only coffeeshops within the designated areas will be able to receive and sell the legally produced cannabis.
  3. After four years, the trial period will be discontinued over a period of six months, and an assessment of its success will take place.

Contrary to common belief, the cultivation and distribution of recreational cannabis are not legal in the Netherlands. The sale of small quantities of cannabis in coffeeshops around the country is tolerated, and such businesses are permitted to store up to 500 grams of the drug at any one time. Individuals who use the drug are also unlikely to face criminalisation, as policy guidelines instruct that no one should be prosecuted for possessing up to five grams of cannabis for personal use, and adults may grow up to five plants in their home.

Nonetheless, coffeeshops’ cannabis stock is entirely supplied by the unregulated illegal market, meaning that it lacks the oversight, quality control, and other regulations that legal substances have. In some parts of the Netherlands, the continued prohibition of large-scale cannabis cultivation has been linked to violence and other elements of organised crime. As TalkingDrugs has reported, several attacks on coffeeshops have taken place in recent years.

The upcoming Dutch trial aims to alleviate the harms of cannabis prohibition in the country by creating a “closed coffeeshop chain”, whereby every aspect of recreational cannabis – from cultivation, to transportation, to sale - is strictly regulated. In the letter, ministers noted that the establishment of such a regulated regime was not aimed at creating a commercial cannabis trade, but rather for “the protection of human rights”.

If the trial goes ahead as planned, the Netherlands will be the first country in Europe – and outside of the Americas – to introduce a legally regulated supply chain for recreational cannabis.

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