In the last 4 decades Amsterdam has been known as the modern Sodom and Gomorrah and is on the bucket list of many herb lovers all over the world. But the freedom of smoking cannabis has been endangered over the course of this year to a point where everybody believed it was going to be impossible for tourists to get a taste of the real Amsterdam.
It was the Dutch government that announced in the beginning of this year that they would introduce a new law that would allow only Dutch citizens to purchase cannabis legally and enter the famous Dutch cannabis café’s. The sale of cannabis however has never entirely been legal as the governmental system has had a policy of tolerance since the 70’s. Only licensed cannabis establishment where allowed to sell each adult person up to 5 grams of cannabis. With this policy the Dutch government has managed to keep the sale of cannabis away from criminal hands and was somehow able to keep an eye on the usage as well.
The weird side of this policy is that a cannabis café. Or ”coffeeshop” as they call them in the Netherlands, is not allowed to have more than 500 grams of cannabis present in the establishment, although some shops sell more than 10 kilo’s a day. Also the source of the cannabis that is being sold remains unknown because large scale cultivation has always been strictly illegal. The sale of cannabis seeds is legal and the Netherlands is still one of the biggest exporters of cannabis seeds.
Even though each individual is allowed to grow up to 5 plants for personal usage it is considered as growing professional and it becomes a crime as soon as even a growing lamp is being used. This policy means that all the cannabis that is being sold in the more than 600 coffeeshops that the country is hosting, has to be grown illegally. Also government sources claim that the Netherlands is responsible for exporting more than 500.000 kilos of cannabis each year. The big amounts of cannabis that has to be produced is being done in for instance small rooms of student houses but also by super large scale operations, ran by criminal organizations and every year the government busts more than 6000 illegal plantations.
Even though it is very easy to get your hands on some quality herbs, the growing of cannabis for personal usage tolerated, the countless possibilities to visit a coffeeshop, smartshop or even an online headshop to legally purchase everything needed to grow or consume, the number of cannabis users amongst the Dutch citizens is quite low compared to other countries in Europe and the rest of the world. Around 47% of the Dutch students have tried cannabis at some point but when looking at the annual prevalence of marijuana usage as a percentage of the population from the age of 15 to 64; the numbers in the Netherlands are quite low. In the United States this percentage lays around 10%, while in the Netherlands this number is around 5.5%. Portugal, a country where cannabis has almost completely been decriminalized, has a percentage of around 3.5%. This clearly shows that when cannabis gets tolerated, the drug becomes less popular and the average usage goes down.
But not everybody is very happy with the Dutch policy on cannabis and many surrounding countries have tried to put pressure on the Netherlands in the last 3 decades. Although a majority of the Dutch people think that the country is doing fine as they are and at many occasions different political parties have tried to also somehow change the law to be able to fully legalize cannabis and regulate the growing as well, the government decided in the beginning of 2012 that it might be time to change the law and get rid of drug tourism totally. The idea was to make a pass system, allowing only Dutch citizens to register at a coffeeshop and purchase only 3 grams a day. The new system went in to effect in the South of the country, where millions of tourists from neighboring countries as Belgium, Germany and even France are visiting just to be able to purchase cannabis. But as the new law not only affected foreigners but also Dutch smokers that had to register as cannabis users, the new law led to panic in the whole country. Most smokers are not interested in being registered and announced that they would be purchasing their weed from illegal dealers or would start growing their own plants. The sale of cannabis shifted from the coffeeshops to illegal street dealers selling cannabis for even lower prices than the shops and many shops had to close their doors after losing most of their customers while the drug related crime rate went through the roof.
After the National elections in September the government has decided to withdraw the new pass system and let local government handle the way they deal with their coffeeshops. In practice this means that coffeeshops will still be only accessible for Dutch citizens but it will be up to each city to decide whether to uphold this policy or not. The major of Amsterdam has announced to not ban tourists from his cities coffeeshops as he is happy the new law has not gone through finally and thinks it would have undone the advantages of the city’s coffeeshop system.
Although many citizens including some politicians believe that it would be better to totally decriminalize cannabis and start regulating the growing of cannabis as well, most people are already very happy the discriminating pass system has been discarded. At the moment the tourist community can stop holding their breath and as we speak Amsterdam is still being flooded with tourists looking to visit one of the 220 cannabis café’s or eat some magic truffles and experience the beauty, freedom and variety of Amsterdam.