Unlike in parts of the U.S. – where a handful of states have legalized cannabis – no EU country has. And in Amsterdam, it’s simply just “tolerated.” But what if cannabis was more than just simply decriminalized there?
The Netherlands’ capital Amsterdam is a city well known for its idyllic canals, bicycles and of course its hash cafes. At almost every corner of the city you can find one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops, from the more classic to the new.
But these shops operate within a grey area of the law. They may have permits to sell small amounts of cannabis, but cannot grow it or store more than 500 grams on site. Neither can they promote it.
“We cannot even put a leaf of marijuana on the window or in the coffee shop because they say you are advertising marijuana and they don’t want any advertisement of drugs,” Sven, owner of a coffee shop says.
There are organizations like the Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition, who want cannabis cultivation to be legalized. They say the current laws encourage crime, as shop owners are forced to buy product illegally on the black market from street dealers and gangs.
“The problem with the policy is that any kind of production or wholesale for the coffee shop is still totally illegal, and also police are very much clamping down on any kind of production of cannabis,” Derrick Bergman, a member of the Union says. “So this is a paradox. If the coffee shop can sell it, where does the coffee shop get the weed?”
Some experts say that alcohol is the biggest driver for substance abuse in the Netherlands. But despite that, those working in addiction prevention say Netherlands should not follow the U.S. model for legalization.
“There’s a difference the Dutch model and the U.S. model,” Floor van Bakkum from Jellinek Addiction Care says. “In the U.S. it’s all commercialized, and health is not the top priority. You can see that people are convincing others to start using cannabis. But we should always be careful with that.”
Cannabis legalization may not be round the corner in the Netherlands. But this year, a handful of local councils will take part in trials to regulate cannabis production by supplying coffee shops directly.