Drug supply experiment falters as Netherlands plan for greenhouses stirs anxiety among local residents
A Dutch trial of state-regulated cannabis cultivation farms to supply coffee shops risks being derailed by an outbreak of nimbyism after locals protested about the location of one of the new facilities.
The plans to take over greenhouses on the outskirts of Etten-Leur, a town in north Brabant, near the Belgian border, and replace blackberries with cannabis plants, triggered large local protests and a request by the local mayor for central government to block the scheme.
Board members of the initiative, known as Project C, have now warned that the other projects will face a similar backlash once their locations become known, threatening the success of the experiment.
Joep van Meel, an IT expert and former member of the provincial parliament for Noord-Brabant who is one of four board members of Project C, said: “In the three years of preparation we did everything transparently but when it became public where we wanted to build our facility, a lot of people living nearby protested. People said that friends of their children wouldn’t be allowed to come to the house and play because they lived near the facility.”
Under the policy of gedoogbeleid, or toleration, the sale and use of cannabis is still a criminal offence under Dutch law, but authorities choose not to pursue lawbreakers. Coffee shops across the country sell small amounts of cannabis to over-18s. But production is illegal, allowing organised drug-crime to prosper.
The Dutch government decided in 2017 to launch a “controlled cannabis supply chain experiment” to see whether it was possible to regulate a “quality-controlled” supply of the drug. The ministry of public health received 147 applications from those wishing to become regulated growers, then whittled these down to 51, which were put into a lottery draw earlier this month.
The 10 winners will now undergo an investigation into their “integrity”, with organisations that have illegally cultivated cannabis in the past ruled out from the final list, to be confirmed in February. Successful bids must guarantee an annual production of at least 6.5 tonnes of cannabis and a solid financial and security plan.
Van Meel said that Project C had been a victim of its own publicity. “We wanted to do everything in public – we thought it was important for this trial to be a success,” he said.
“People will find out in the coming weeks that they will have a cannabis facility near them and they will protest.”
“A legal challenge would be very expensive,” Van Meel added. “We are looking at all our options. We think this is a very important project to improve the quality of the cannabis and to take the supply out of the hands of criminals.”