A personal update
Having recently moved back to France, I’ve been having to navigate the difference in attitude, legality and availability of cannabis here as compared to the Netherlands. In terms of what’s on offer there’s much less choice and smoking in public feels a bit fraught, which reduces my enjoyment of it as well as being somewhat counterproductive as I smoke to manage anxiety.
Even leaves and stems would be considered illegal here, but I decided to take my stock with me when I moved. Weed on the other hand did not come with me as the fear of being caught created too much anxiety. Luckily however I received some on arrival as a welcome gift so I didn’t have to go without!
The legal status of cannabis in the Netherlands
Despite what many people believe, cannabis is not in fact legal in the Netherlands. Yes it is socially accepted, but for it to be legal the whole supply chain would have to be legal, which is not the case. It’s legal for you to have up to five grams of weed on you and to buy five grams of cannabis or hash, but it’s illegal to have more than five grams on you at any time.
Coffee shops are legal and can sell up to five grams per person (and only to people over 18). The interesting thing is that weed is not taxed – this is because growing weed is illegal in the Netherlands so the government can’t make money off it. The coffee shops are therefore also very protective of their growers as they are actually breaking the law to supply them with weed. If you’re a middle man your activity is also illegal.
There’s a myth that you’re allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants outdoors in the Netherlands but this is not the case; it’s illegal to grow it, full stop. The fines for breaking the law are very high in the Netherlands so although lots of people do cultivate a few plants, a bigger operation is quite risky.
Contradictory laws in the Netherlands
A lot of coffee shops have closed in recent times – it feels like they’ve become less welcome in the city. Recently when restaurants and cafes were allowed to open again after lockdown, coffee shops were entitled to be open as take-away only. It seems that the city is trying to discourage cannabis tourism (even though it’s one of the biggest pulls), as it’s seen as something that brings undesirable tourism.
So officially recreational cannabis is considered decriminalised in the Netherlands. This seems nonsensical to me though because if you can’t grow yourself you have to engage with the black market to consume, so the law puts people in a bit of a strange situation.
The Opium Act in 1928 stated that all drugs from list one (heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, GHB) and list 2 (tranquilizers and cannabis) are illegal, but the Opium Act Directive also states that certain outlets where cannabis use occurs will be tolerated by the local authorities. So there’s an official tolerance policy but it remains illegal.
It’s also illegal to smoke in the street, but again, this is widely tolerated. If you are controlled and found with five grams it can be confiscated; if you have more than five grams on you the fine is at least €75 (and possibly prison if you have a lot).
The path ahead
A landmark legal case happened in 2014 when two cannabis farmers were arrested and the court ruled that although they violated the law by cultivating 2500 cannabis plants, they would not be punished because they grew the plants in a safe and responsible manner, in accordance with the Dutch policy of tolerance. This was a game-changing case and showed a shift in attitude towards cannabis cultivation in the Netherlands.
The Dutch government is going ahead with a program to grow legal cannabis for medical use, but private growing remains illegal. This is so sad as I really believe people should be empowered to grow their own medicine. Also, for the moment only two companies have the license to grow, which means that effectively they have a monopoly and the consumer has very little choice.
So although there are some positive signs around cannabis use, there are still many contradictory indicators. In 2015 the government ordered the closure of more than 6000 cannabis plantations, but currently there is a plan to create smaller cultivation licenses in the future; it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen.
Current CBD legislation
CBD production is illegal in the Netherlands, although it’s legal to sell and legal to use. In 1999 the Opium Act was amended to legalise hemp for industrial production, meaning it’s legal to grow cannabis plants with a THC content of less than 0.2%.
Producing CBD from these plants is still illegal but thanks to a loophole in the law if the CBD is extracted outside the Netherlands it is then legal to sell it in the country, but it must have a THC content below 0.05% (although this is not guaranteed on the products that are sold).
So there you have it – all in all pretty confusing, lots of grey areas and too much potential for authorities to decide on a case by case basis how severely you’ll be punished if you stray outside the rules. Let’s hope that things continue to move in a positive direction!
// Listen to this episode on the Podcast.