Today cannabis is sold openly in 573 ‘coffeeshops’ operating in 103 of the 380 municipalities in the Netherlands.
While local authorities have tolerated the sale of cannabis under certain conditions in these outlets for many years, the supply of the drug to the coffeeshops is not officially permitted. This has created an illicit market in cannabis production and wholesale distribution.
In October 2017, the Dutch government declared its intention to permit an experiment on the legal supply of cannabis to coffeeshops to be carried out in up to ten medium to large-sized municipalities.
The trial should examine impacts on public health, crime, public safety and nuisance, and the municipalities should be varied in size and location. On 9 March 2018, the minister of Justice and Security and the minister for Health, Welfare and Sport described the plans for this experiment in a letter to the Dutch parliament.
The experiment is to be carried out in three phases:
- Preparation: entry into force of the law, designation of growers and municipalities, and a research consortium established;
2. Experiment: a four-year period of production and delivery to coffeeshops;
3. Completion: restoring the situation to how it was before, over about six months.
An independent advisory committee, reporting by the end of May 2018, will help to define such details as how the cannabis is cultivated, monitoring and enforcement systems, and the criteria to select municipalities.
The ministers’ letter to the parliament included several initial questions to the advisory committee. After the summer break, the committee will nominate the municipalities for selection.
The draft law, required to allow deviation from the drug control act, will be presented to the parliament before the summer break. The draft has already been sent for consultation to key stakeholders including the association of municipalities, the college of attorneys general, and the council for the judiciary.
The law will be accompanied by an order in council which will set out the more detailed requirement of cannabis cultivation and sales.
The results of the trial will be independently evaluated.
In the Netherlands, an estimated 16.1 % of young adults had used cannabis in the last year, compared with 13.3 % in Germany, 10.1 % in Belgium and 22.1 % in France.