Dutch Coffeeshops to stay open?

The new right wing Dutch government (headed by “Liberals” and kept in power by the far-right neo-nazi “Freedom Party” headed by Geert Wilders) has been trying it best to reverse the highly successful “coffee shop” policy that allows people to buy and use cannabis in properly run cafes.  As recently as 11th June this year, just over two weeks ago, the “weed pass” plan was still being touted as a definite firm plan by the Dutch government. Radio Netherlands reported

Dutch Security and Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten recently announced the nationwide introduction of the weed pass. Under the government plan, coffeeshops will be allowed to issue a maxiumum of 1,000 to 1,500 weed passes, and only to Dutch nationals.

And on June 23rd The Economist reported

New government rules may force some 660 coffee shops that now sell cannabis over the counter to become members-only clubs with strict registration procedures, accessible only to Dutch residents.

Needless to say the prohibition campaigners this side of the North Sea have been keen to tell the world how the Dutch are planning to close down the coffeeshops and are keen to reverse the policy of tolerance. Sadly for them it looks like it isn’t going to happen.

As The Economist also reported, there was a lot of opposition to the idea

According to Derrick Bergman, head of VOC, a lobby group that fights for the legalisation of marijuana, approval of the guidelines could mean the “end of the coffee shop as we know it.” This will affect more than the country’s desirability as a destination for backpackers or the turnover of a cannabis market worth hundreds of millions of euros. Mr Bergman fears the emergence of a new criminality, such as illegal trade in membership passes or street dealing, which could increase exposure to hard drugs.

Earlier today Transform tweeted

apparently the mooted Netherlands ‘locals only’ membership coffeeshop plan has been shelved as national policy (awaiting confirmation)

adding however

…although membership only access could still be brought in by municipalities, likely to be border towns where ‘tourist’ problems arose

The basic reasons for scrapping this half-baked scheme are really simple, first the coffeeshop system works and it brings in a hell of a lot of money, especially to Amsterdam. But more to the point the Dutch aren’t stupid, even if their government is. They know what will happen if they close the coffeeshops; it seemed that the Dutch cannabis consumers had decided not to register with any such scheme and they will get all the problems of street dealing we have as a result.

The Dutch have rightly been proud of their drugs policy over the years and it looks like they’ve come to their senses before the politicians were allowed to wreck havock on it.

Interestingly it looks like the prohibition lobby has shot itself in the foot in another more subtle way as well. The prohibition campaigners have for some time now been claiming that high potency cannabis leads to mental illness and that this is a reason to keep cannabis illegal. However, there are now calls from some sections of the Dutch media for high potency cannabis to be restricted, the Health Minister Edith Schippers told public broadcaster NOS.

“I’ve been very worried for years about the THC concentration, especially if it is so high. We will take a serious look at it,”

Now of course we’ve heard all this before, but if there is a genuine concern about high potency cannabis then the Coffeeshop system allows at least some of the controls needed to regulate the cannabis trade to be imposed. If they close down the shops, they’ll be left with the uncontrolled mess we have and, like us, the Dutch will have no way to influence what cannabis users are buying. In short, if they really are worried about the types of cannabis on sale, they need the coffeeshop system and the prohibition lobby has given us the strongest argument for keeping them open.

It is worth pointing out however that the Dutch regime isn’t perfect by a long way. The Coffeeshops may be legal and regulated, but they are supplied – like all of the multi billion Euro cannabis trade throughout Europe – by an uncontrolled and unregulated illegal supply industry. Perhaps this weed pass fiasco will be the long awaited last gasp of the prohibition lobby in Holland and common sense will at last prevail. The only way to go is to fully legalise, properly control and regulate the whole cannabis trade. Not just the shops, but the whole supply side. That is the only way they will be able to do anything about the problem of high potency cannabis they claim to be so worried about.

Anyway, it’s looking like all those people who were worrying about their next holiday to The Dam can start making their plans again. Fingers crossed.




UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

8 thoughts on “Dutch Coffeeshops to stay open?

  1. I don’t see what the problem with high potency cannabis is. I smoked some lovely amnesia haze 20% THC when I was in Amsterdam and it didn’t do me any harm.

    Think of it this way, would you pour yourself a pint of whisky and drink it like a beer?

    The main thing about cannabis is that it should be harvested at the correct time (i.e. not too early) so the CBD has a chance to develop.

  2. Correct harvesting is important, but some strains are high potency (ie not much CBD) and will always be low CBD no matter how properly they’re harvested.

    The only reason for mentioning the potency issue is they have mentioned it. Politicians (don’t you just love them?) claim to be really concerned about the need to regulate the cannabis supply. Well, OK, if they see the need to do that, then they need a way to be able to do it and that means coffeeshops as a minimum. I’m not making the high potency argument, the politicians are, although granted they probably haven’t thought it through properly.

  3. I note that someone knew the herb Mark tried in Amsterdam had 20% THC; it would be interesting to learn just how prevalent the testing procedure for THC and/or CBD is, how much it costs, how reliable etc. and which Coffeeshops have it.

    This could make it possible for someone concerned about the condition of their sanity to order:

    (1) some herb which tests out, say, at 10% THC, 10% CBD, i.e. strong but balanced. Serve one 25-mg vapetoke (no papers, no tobacckgo), and maybe, after a few minutes, a second serving, etc. waching carefully to see “what happens to your psyche”.

    (2) a little bit of high-THC herb and a little bit of high-CBD herb. (a) Blend some of each in a 25-mg toke; or (b) alternately serve a toke of one, then of the other– carefully watching to observe whether there are different “psychiatric” phenomena depending which came first.

    After some basic systematic experimentation as above, each individual should soon arrive at an ideal titration schedule which maximizes personal benefit.

  4. I hope personaly that the system as it is does’nt get pushed underground, for all the facts Derek outlined above. I do wonder how after so long they could turn their backs on reason. I do hope it wont change. Sadly over the past decade i have noticed an active effort too demonise Cannabis again, Reffer Madness for the naughtys. I have visited Amsterdam many times and i have always respected the Dutch peope and had a genuine respect for the country, ive never caused one bit off trouble in all my visits. In fact instead of feeding my hard earned to a totaly unregulated market here at home i knew in some way the country was getting a little back in tax. So Cannabis tourists arnt the problem, its the system that wants us all living in the stoneage ignorant and affraid who are the treat too mankind not peaceful happy stoned people.

  5. @Mark

    I’m afraid your point about CBD and harvesting is wrong… it is a widespread urban myth among growers

    only plants with the CBD gene make CBD, and the ratio of CBD to THC in that plant will be the same no matter what stage of the plant’s life cycle. Very few of the modern intensively bred indoor “skunk” strains have any CBD at all.

    As a smoker, the only place you are likely to find CBD is in imported hash, as it is only common in traditional hashish and charas varieties of plant (often 50% of plants are 1:1 THC:CBD and 25% are pure CBD)

    on the same note – CBD is not a sedative, it in fact suppresses some of the effects of THC… it clears and centres the mind, and seems to be an anti-psychotic… because it counteracts the effects of THC, CBD has been selected out by breeders looking for the most potent plants… hence no CBD in skunk, and all the “skunk psychosis” myth that built up around that

    Derek’s points about “coffee shops” (i.e. regulated and licensed outlets) is spot on —

    if the govt is serious about protecting about consumers, then they need to be facilitating our ability to make an informed choice about what we consume — we need labels and products of known and/or standardised potency

    that right to an informed choice is a basic human right!

    by denying us that, the govt is trampling on our liberty and demonstrating either its ignorance or its insincerity

  6. Not so sure that the drugs tourism in Holland is good for any drug users (tourists or locals). It is very good for local commerce since they can sell real crap to tourists who don’t know what they are buying. In my experience the coffee shops (particularly in Amsterdam) have found over the last 10 years or so that many of the tourists who come in have very low expectations from the weed they buy. So selling them poor quality weed maximises profits whilst minimising the the problem of people passing out in the shop or complaints about stuff that is too strong for them. (Hash and imported weed is often much better quality and value for money but only of interest to seasoned smokers – most tourists want something wet, smelly and green – what is colloquially know as ‘skunk’ ). Last time I was in Amsterdam it was admitted to me (by a commercial grower and breeder) that there are 2 classes of product in coffee shops – the tourist stuff has often been rubbed for hash (pre-harvest) or sometimes even washed to make water hash (post-harvest). So be careful and try asking for imported products – you may save some money and get a nicer smoke ! 😎

    On the THC/CBD (and other compounds) debate it is often forgotten that when you cure your weed (keep it in a sealed jar for months) the product actually changes and is a much nicer taste and nicer high after this time. Much of the traditional weed or hash (the kiff it is made from is cured before pressing the hash) has gone through the process as well as being genetically different to weed grown in grow rooms. A good way to get a balance is to grow an Indica/Sativa hybrid plant and give it time to mature before you smoke it – obviously most commercial growers will not harvest a crop then store it for 3 months before selling it since they can sell it wet for more money (cured stuff looks more like imported – so commands a lower price despite being much better quality!). Prohibition means many people simply don’t know what to look for in their weed. For example many people seem to like their weed bright green but the green is from chlorophyl which is only used for photosynthesis by a plant. Actually a very green plant gives you a headache when smoked but the chlorophyl decays after just a week or two of curing – the colour has changed and the headache is gone.

    A comparison with legal alcohol products shows that many users drink matured products and would never think of drinking a 2 week old wine or whiskey. The difference between alcohol and cannabis is that the manufacturers don’t offer inappropriately prepared products (the expertise of the manufacturer is used to produce the best possible product even if it does take years or complicated production techniques to achieve). Since production of alcohol is legal the quality and standards are much higher and the product is more consistent as well. Inappropriately prepared or manufactured alcohol products can be lethal to the user rather than just more likely to cause harm – legally regulated production of any drug is very important to harm reduction even it if it does mean a higher overall consumption to some degree. Dutch coffeeshops have no standards for the products they sell (although some do try to provide accurate product information and consistency to customers) and all production/importation of cannabis is still as illegal as it is in the UK so unless you are the cannabis equivalent of an expert wine buyer you will always risk being sold something that is poor quality or not what you are looking for.

    By the way the grower I met said he never smoked anything cured for less than 6 months – no matter what it’s genetics were !

  7. Very good information from phrtao, I’m thinking it all over, meanwhile this one point:

    “…legally regulated production of any drug is very important to harm reduction even if it does mean a higher overall consumption to some degree.”

    I think there is a way to see an actual DECLINE IN CONSUMPTION, if Legally Regulated Production referred to above is paired with Physically Regulated Consumption, in the form of a dosage reduction utensil such as a one-hitter, a temperature-regulating vapouriser etc. Instead of rolling the 500-mg joint “every time I want a smoke” and wasting over half the THC, users would have the option of a 25-mg toke now and then!

    Under this approach the National Health Service, by actually giving away a free one-pound one-hitter to every registered cannabis OR tobacco user, could eliminate both the WASTE and the HAZARD of cigarettes and other hot burning overdose delivery systems and save a ton of health care money*– starting now with unambiguously legalizing and promoting what till now were called “illegal cannabis paraphernalia”. (Please help edit and improve wikiHow.com: “How to Make Smoke Pipes From Everyday Objects”.)

    *The extra carbon monoxide and combustion toxins produced in a hot burning joint (while cannabinoids are being wasted) arguably do even more medical harm to users than impurities in the hashish or whatever– except maybe that pernicious addition of tobacco which the Australian Department of Health says can lead to “unintended nicotine addiction.”

  8. Re another interesting point:

    “Actually a very green plant gives you a headache when smoked but the chlorophyl decays after just a week or two of curing – the colour has changed and the headache is gone.”

    This hasn’t been an issue for me because (currently in midwest USA) I haven’t seen “green” i.e. uncured herb lately, but hey, if you use a 25-mg. single toke utensil and hold the lighter flame far enough away (2-cm vapourising distance) you’ll wind up using very little herb (but getting maximum cannabinoid) so I bet the headache will be avoided.

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