The Early Days
In the early 70’s both hash and heroin had gained relative popularity in The Netherlands. Whereas heroin addicts were causing a great nuisance, those lighting up a pipe of Moroccan Gold or fine Indian Charras actually behaved better than your average blunt Dutchy. Dutch lawmakers decided to go with the flow (yes, some had been smoking the holy weed) and take steps towards the legalization of cannabis. The rationale behind this policy was that if a soft drug (cannabis) was separated from hard drugs (heroin, cocaine, etc.), the popularity of the first would not lead to an increase in use of the second. The Netherlands however were bound to international treaties and were never able to fully legalise cannabis outright.
The solution they came up with was called the gedoogbeleid – roughly translated as ‘policy of toleration’. Under this policy, no one would be prosecuted for the sale or possession of small amounts of cannabis. The large-scale production and distribution of cannabis remained illegal. Holland’s first coffeeshop opened its doors in 1972. The early years were relatively carefree for both smokers and retailers; but somehow right-wing conservatives always conspire to try to spoil the fun. Fuelled by constant criticism and pressure from less enlightened European countries and the US – the debate in Holland took a turn for the worst.
Over-regulation & Consequences
In the decades following gedoogbeleid the number of Coffeeshops in Holland mushroomed to a peak of about 1500 in the early nineties. As cannabis enthusiasts from all over the world came to Holland to light up and smoke their pipe in peace, Amsterdam quickly gained a reputation as the cannabis capital of the world. This reputation clearly grated conservative circles who grew tired of being seen as liberal stoners and started to attempt to regulate and stifle the industry. This is being achieved by numerous (often petty) regulations being placed at the door of Coffeeshop owners.
In the mid-90’s the minimum age for buying cannabis was raised to 18. Shops were prevented from selling over 5 grams per day per person and were also restricted to stocking a maximum of 500 grams of cannabis on the premises at any time – way less than a popular shop will sell on a good day. This limit also includes any ‘personal’ belonging to employees. A deliberate drive was also made to eliminate the presence of hard drugs and eliminate shops deemed to be causing a nuicance. Again in all these cases, the shop owner could be held directly responsible if anybody was caught breaking any of these new rules, with shop licenses permanently revoked for even the slightest infraction. Coffeeshops live in a constant state of nervousness waiting for the next ‘control’. In recent years more rules were imposed, including the preposterous rule that no shop could be situated within 250 meters from a school, despite under 18’s being banned from entering and numerous credible studies showing that Dutch children were significantly less likely to try cannabis that any of their European neighbours.
Because Coffeeshops were never officially legalized and the entire supply route of the product they sell is illegal, they have no judicial protection and cannot fight any law or rule laid upon them by lawmakers. About nine hundred Coffeeshops have been closed down in the last twenty years, often for minor offences. No new Coffeeshops are allowed to open, (although some owners have successfully transferred existing licences). At the current rate of closure, there will be no more Coffeeshops in The Netherlands within 15 years. It’s a good thing that the rest of the world will have legalized our beloved plant by then! We will attempt to cover the supply chain in a separate article in the future.
The crackdown on cannabis (particularly growers) has had some nasty effects for the country. Because the risk of growing cannabis increased, many small-time growers have given up, while large-scale criminal organizations willing to take the risk have taken over much of the business. Recent Dutch cannabis policy has led to a significant drop in the quality of most of the cannabis available in The Netherlands.
A Glimmer of Hope
Increasingly unhappy cannabis connoisseurs have surprisingly found allies in unexpected places. There is a general unease in Holland at the direction we have pursued at a time where global trends seem to be finally catching up to the view that prohibition has been an unmitigated failure of catastrophic proportions. An alliance of mayors of mayor Dutch cities and the top brass of Dutch law enforcement have spoken out against the war on drugs. They are the ones responsible for enforcing the laws imposed by parliament. According to the alliance they are now spending so much of their recourses on the fight against cannabis that all other areas of law enforcement are suffering.
This view is particularly held by the mayors of larger southern border towns who have have been outspoken critics of the current policy. When parliament tried to impose a kind of marijuana passport (Wietpass) for Dutch citizens in an effort to ban drug tourism; street deals actually increased. Tourists coming in from France, Belgium and Germany were now met at the border by dealers offering crack and heroin in addition to fine Dutch weed. The Wietpass proved short-sighted and ultimately unenforceable.
So with quality dropping, the nuisance of street deals spreading through residential areas in the southern cities and an unsustainable strain on law enforcement it seems legalisation is the only logical way to go. And there is yet another good argument to legalise – the financial argument. The revenue for the City of Amsterdam brought in by visitors wanting to sample our beautiful Dutch flower has never been properly calculated, but according to a Newsweek article one in three visitors to Amsterdam and one in five visitors to Holland step into a Coffeeshop at least once during their trip. Forbes calculated that between tourism and extra taxes, the country would stand to make up to a billion euros annually if it were to completely legalise cannabis. 2014 taxation figures from Colorado demonstrate quite how lucrative the marijuana industry can be for governments struggling with the financial crisis – potentially rescuing nations condemned to indefinite austerity, simply by smoking some Rollex OG Kush!
So if you think about it, the legalisation of cannabis will clean up our neighbourhoods, help law enforcement and boost the economy. It’s nothing less than a wet dream for any right-wing conservative.