Known as one of the greatest cannabis capitals of Europe, Amsterdam has a reputation that shines as a great beacon of acceptance and appreciation for the consumption of the cannabis plant on a large scale. But, when it comes to Dutch law things are not always what they seem, despite what you’ve probably heard. Although the historically progressive stance on cannabis and the growing progressive reform in Amsterdam has done much for the cannabis community, the country’s current drug policy “tolerates” cannabis under strict terms and conditions.
If you’re a tourist, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of Dutch cannabis policy before you make a visit and experiment. In this article below, you’ll find an overview of everything you need to know and then some.
What are the current Dutch laws on cannabis?
The first thing to note, all drugs are illegal in the Netherlands. However, under current drug laws, everyone above the age of 18 is allowed to buy and possess no more than the maximum amount of cannabis, which is five grams. However, cannabis isn’t technically legal in Amsterdam or anywhere else in the Netherlands; something many outsiders aren’t aware of. Although illegal, due to the increasing desire for tolerance and personal freedom in Dutch culture and international pressure, under the ‘toleration policy, cannabis in Amsterdam is tolerated. This basically means that government officials will turn a blind eye to the recreational use of cannabis, so long as it’s done without causing a public disturbance. If you’re under the age of 18, you are not allowed to buy a single thing, in fact completely barred from stepping a foot passed the door of any cannabis establishment. However, if you are of legal age, yes you are allowed to smoke in places of Amsterdam such as coffeeshops where cannabis consumption isn’t banned or take your stash home.
But, don’t let giddiness cause you to purchase tons of cannabis at every coffeeshop you visit because it can and will add up. If you’re caught carrying more than five grams, you’ll be smacked with a fine (€ 75) and the agonizing consequence of having all that goodness you’ve accumulated confiscated. Possessing anything more than that, let’s say 30 grams, and expect an exceedingly higher fine as well as being prosecuted for intent to sell, which can mean jail time for up to a year.
However, if you’re an otherwise law-abiding citizen and not being a nuisance, most likely nothing will happen to you. If you happen to get searched by police (due to probable cause or if you’re in certain designated areas where they can legally search) and they find any form of cannabis, they will confiscate it. However, you won’t be fined or prosecuted.
So, can you grow?
Yes, every person in the Netherlands over the age of 18 is allowed to grow (not more than) 5 cannabis plants for their own personal pleasure. However, if you do this under the age of 18 or grow larger quantities equal to more than five plants, there are grounds for prosecution. You can get in trouble for using any additional equipment (such as lights, ventilation- or irrigation systems), which could result in a fine (€ 67.000) or jail sentence four years maximum.. The Dutch government has prioritized putting their best foot forward by investigating and prosecuting the big “criminals” who profit from and engage in the production of cannabis on a large scale, especially those who sell large quantities. In spite of all that, you can always find a healthy stock of weed available in coffeeshops. However, the coffeeshop system has not been without its problems. Small quantities are obviously intended only for personal use, though, technically even the small-scale production of cannabis is an offense and target for prosecution.
But, what about the coffeeshops?
Ah yes, the Dutch coffeeshop – no we’re not talking about a café where you can get drip coffee and frappes. We’re talking about a place where you get dank bud – quite amazing, fresh dank bud that is. Although they sell other items (like coffee), their main business is cannabis. Now, when it comes to growing on a mass scale, the sale and distribution of cannabis to coffeeshops is a no-go, even if they’re fully licensed. This seems like a completely grey area, as the cannabis in the coffeeshops has to come from somewhere.
Coffeeshops are governed by strict limitations and conditions stated under the ‘policy of tolerance’ in which cannabis is sold and used. Current Dutch law does allow the inventory of under 500 grams of cannabis on-site at any time, but nothing more than that. While this may not be enough to provide even a handful of customers in a day, coffeeshops do have their ways of staying on top of their game. Essentially, business is conducted “under the table” where coffeeshop owners typically “hire” illegal growers to distribute and sell the product – which often involves organized criminal groups. Although some of it is sourced from other countries such as Morocco and Pakistan, most of it is produced right here in the Netherlands — the quality of this cannabis (called nederwiet) is “said” to be way more potent than what gets imported. While sales are tolerated and de facto legalized, in order to keep the lights on, coffeeshop owners are forced to partake in this seemingly problematic “backdoor” system (the Dutch actually call it “the backdoor problem”). After questioning a coffeeshop owner about their supply sources, there is a good chance they will say that all that weed just appeared out of thin air. But, as Dutch news continues to report illegal cannabis cultivation crackdowns, this doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Perhaps, the quirks of this system’s evolution within an international legal framework is what may have led to a unique paradox such as this. Which now begs the question, what can we expect going forward?
Well, there is no easy answer. But, due to new limitations and restrictions as well as decade-old policies (where a coffeeshop is situated, potency limits for what’s considered a “hard drug”, public support, etc), it seems that things have been scaling back for coffeeshops. It’s true that Amsterdam is famous for its tolerant drugs policy but, the approach of current Dutch cannabis policy doesn’t seem very liberal at all, nor tolerant. Once holding the top spot in the international discussion on cannabis, one has to wonder if whether the country’s stance on cannabis is politically or ideologically driven, or fundamentally pragmatic? In no way are we attempting to paint the Dutch experience in a negative light, but whatever it is, it seems that there’s some catching up needed to be done. In the end, only the hands of time will reveal what the future holds for coffeeshops, and cannabis in general for that matter.
Come one, come all
To conclude, the cannabis scene in Amsterdam has a lot to offer, but it’s important to be on the right side of the law and understand the past and current Dutch attitude and policy on cannabis — which can spare you a lot of trouble. If you’re a fellow tourist looking to experiment, coffeeshops are something unique to the Netherlands and can be really fun when done right.