About Netherweed and coffeeshops
an essay on cannabis in Dutch society now and in the future
©1994 Mario Lap
In the following I will try to explain why the current "tolerative" policy toward the cannabis retail-trade and use should be regarded as an instrument of a phase in the acculturation-process of cannabis in The Netherlands. It should to my opinion necessarily lead to some kind of licensing system regulating both the production and sale of cannabis in The Netherlands.
Based on a report filed in 1972 by the Baan commission 1 the Opiumact on illicit drugs of 1976 brought a clear-cut distinction between drug users and traffickers. At the same time a distinction was introduced between illegal drugs with so called unacceptable health risks and cannabisproducts by means of a depenalization of the latter. The philosophy behind this is a separation of drug markets in order to avoid contacts by young cannabis consumers with the "hard drug scene". This tolerative policy toward the retail trade and use of cannabis for recreational purposes developed since 1976 has indeed influenced public health and welfare in The Netherlands in a positive way. The number of users seems relatively stable1, the number of problematic hard drug users is lowering and the soft and hard drug markets were and are separated to a considerable extent. Among the public at large cannabis is regarded in a relaxed way and the discovery of a young cannabis user does not necessarily lead to stigmatization, marginalization and/or psychiatric treatment as is still practice in many European countries and the United States. In case of problematic use anyone, also in the lower strata of society, has access to diverse and easily accessible treatment facilities2.
Permitting the retail-trade of cannabis-products in about 1500 so-called coffeeshops under specific conditions - through a system of prosecution guide lines3 and the involvement of the so called Triangle Committee - Mayor, Chief of Police and District Attorney - has thus to be observed as an integral and vital component of the relatively successful Dutch drug policy as a whole.
The sale of softdrugs in these coffeeshops concerns hashish (cannabisproduct4) and marijuana (dried parts of the cannabisplant5). The hashish and cannabis are produced in various countries but due to various reasons, like the labour intensity of hashish production and labour costs in The Netherlands, hasjish is hardly produced on the basis of locally produced cannabis.
The so called Nederweed, marijuana grown in The Netherlands, is both produced on a small scale as on a larger scale in a semi-professional way. Although tolerating the retail-trade of hashish and marijuana in the coffeeshops, no similar systems are applied toward the wholesale-trade or production and growing of cannabis in The Netherlands.
The intensified judicial attention for the supply of coffeeshops pushes the coffeeshops toward more criminal circles. The judicial interventions disturb the normalized supply-patterns. A large number of coffeeshops offers resistance to this drift toward a more criminal existence and the proprietors of these coffeeshops prefer a normal legal status with corresponding taxation and contributions but the current legislation prevents this.
Although the hypocrisy of this situation is realized by most, the legislator hesitates using international- treaties, pressure and politics as an excuse6. It almost seems like the Dutch legislator suffers from an a-motivational syndrome concerning cannabis.
II Production, wholesale-trade and Nederweed
Before dealing with the Dutch cannabis market as a whole and the suggestion of a licensing system, some attention has to be paid here to the production and wholesale trade of cannabis-products.Where the application of prosecution guidelines has given room for a more or less de facto legalization of the cannabis retail trade this is not the case with respect to the production for or the supply of this retail trade.
It may be considered common knowledge, that the importation through smuggling and the wholesale-trade of cannabis is to a large extent controlled by organized crime, where this was not yet the case up to 1993, according to reports by the Dutch Criminal Investigation Authorities (CRI), for the production of nederweed (Dutch Marijuana)2.Various arguments can be put forward for a certain protection of this activity and such a policy is to be preferred to a sheer repressive approach which would only result to this activity to also fall into the hands of organized crime.
- 1. A major part of the Dutch internal cannabis-market is provided for by cannabis grown in The Netherlands.
- 2. No substantial exportation of Dutch cannabis-products had been effectuated up to the end of 1993 other then seeds, clones and grower-attributes such as lamps and fertilizers.
- 3. The price of Dutch Marijuana was simply not very competitive when exported related to the price of for example Moroccan Hashish or Ghanese marijuana.
- 4. Organized crime prefers to smuggle hashish due to odor, volume, manageability and profit expectations so Dutch marijuana is not found on all foreign cannabis markets.
- 5. At the end of 1993 the kilo (whole sale) price of dutch cannabis came down substantially probably due to a production in excess of the demand by coffeeshops. Early 1994 we can observe the first captures of dutch cannabis shipments by the British authorities and some small scale exportation to the German Federal Republic.
- 6. The process as mentioned under 5 took place while the police and prosecutional attention for the cannabis production and the amount of raids and plants seized increased.
- 7. When we tolerate a production, which is strictly restricted to the supply or provision of the retail trade in tolerated coffeeshops and/or for personal use, exportation of Dutch cannabis seems easier to avoid than under current conditions.
- 8. This "tolerated" production of cannabis in The Netherlands will and can further decriminalize an important part of the cannabis market in The Netherlands and will bring about the necessary infra-structure for a licensing system as suggested by the author.
- 9. There is almost no precedent in economic history of an importation substitution as successful as is the case with Dutch marijuana.
- 10. Several Public Prosecutors and or police officials already have a thorough knowledge in regard to whether growers are more or less "bona fide" due to prosecutional activities and other police work.
- 11. The production of hashish under strict conditions can be stimulated which can accomplish the total decriminalization of the cannabis-market.
III Licenses and legislation
As mentioned before the Dutch cannabis market, within the current policy, depends upon criminal organizations or individuals threatened by penal law for its supply and production.
Substantial parts of the profits made by or with the cannabis trade remain out of the perspective of the Treasury Department which is to my opinion a highly undesirable situation from a social point of view.
By means of a licensing system we accomplish a sufficient control, management and supervision of both the production and the sale of cannabis-products in The Netherlands and can the cannabis-market be fully withdrawn from the criminal sphere.
A licensing system will replace this extensive source of income for organized crime with a branch of trade in which many people can have legal careers and can accomplish a relief of the judicial system as a whole through a decrease of working pressure at the investigation, prosecution, trial and punishment of drug offenses.A taxation system can be applied to the cannabis-market through this de jure legislation as applied to all goods and services and when desired one could impose a duty as is the case with spirits and tobacco. These revenues could cover the expenses made for the supervision of the cannabis-market by a National Bureau for Cannabis as suggested. This Bureau should effectuate a liable quality- analysis and control where no instrument is available in the current situation preventing cannabis consumers being confronted with products of ill quality. From both the perspective of these consumers and of public health, the composition and potency of cannabis-products sold is to be distinguished and or indicated by means of for example product-information on the packaging.This legalized situation will further comfort municipal authorities in need of a clear administrative- as well as better functioning control-system in respect of the quantity, location and quality of cannabis selling locations then effectuated through the guidelines for the prosecution policy concerning cannabis-offenses and the Triangle Committee.
In this context the failure of the international combat against the illicit psychotropic substance production and trade - the so called War on Drugs7 - can not be left unmentioned for this fight can but fail when a policy is continued based on prohibition through application of criminal law instead of a more enlightened approach by means of administrative legislation and preventive activities such as sound and unbiased information, open """scenes""" and destigmatization based on a harm reduction approach. As was already stated in the French Declaration des droits de l'''homme et du citoyen of 1792 "Liberty consists of the right to do anything that does not harm someone else", which does not implicate The State not to have an obligation toward its citizens in regard of narcotic substances and public health. But clearly no foundation can be found to continue a policy with results to what was already achieved by the alcohol prohibition in the U.S.A in the thirties meaning:
- The creation of an illegal economic system with accompanying criminal organizations and large amounts of illegally obtained capital;
- This process shows to be even more dangerous, more difficult to cope with and even more impossible to fight when it is taking place on a global level as is the case with illicit drugs;
- A disjointing of our society in which no preventive or other contribution is to be expected from criminal law but a further criminalization and increasing amounts of money allocated to special drug-fight agencies, more police, more prisons and other judicial means.
Observing the health risks of for example cannabis in this context we can come but to the following conclusion. A prohibitive approach of this substance, by means of criminal law, is a remedy far worse than the disease and aggravates maladies that are extremely harmful to our economic system.
As mentioned before in The Netherlands currently the cannabis-use and retail-trade are, although not "de jure", "de facto", withdrawn from criminal law to a certain extent, but various factors indicate the necessity or obligation to make the final legalizing step:
- the growing need, of notably local authorities, for a fitting regulation of the cannabis-supplying catering trade ("coffeeshops") with respect to location, quantity and quality as applied to for example the alcohol-supplying catering trade;
- consciousness of the fact that the internationally operating cannabis trade generates large amounts of money;
- the revenues derived from the whole sale trade and smuggling of cannabis are also allocated to other criminal activities;
- a considerable part of the profits derived from the cannabis trade is "laundered" and reinvested in respectable businesses causing a threat for the economic and political system in The Netherlands and elsewhere;8
- the absence of any quality supervision over cannabis products and the necessity of consumer directed product information;
- The absence of the possibility of a fiscal approach as applied for other goods and services - The finding that Dutch cannabis production has not yet fallen into the hands of organized crime and is capable of the supply of a eminent product that can substitute and dispense with illegal importation.
- the absence of possibilities to oblige the cooperation of coffeeshops at preventive and informative activities.
- The public at large notices that the cannabis retail trade is highly lucrative and stating that this branch remains free of a fiscal regime as applied to them, due to its illegal character, is viewed as unjust and an encroachment of the principle of equality for the law.
- The retail trade itself often observes the fact that income generated by them necessarily has an illicit nature as highly problematic.
The only way to tackle the problems mentioned above seems the introduction of a licensing system regulating both the production and provision of cannabis products.
Such a regulation requires a change of the current Opiumwet (Dutch Drug Law) enabling the extraction of cannabis from the scope of this law. Cannabis can than be regulated according to a system resembling the Drank Horeca wet (Alcohol-catering trade law) but including a regulation of the cannabis production whereas the alcohol production is not regulated in the alcohol catering trade law mentioned above.
A formal enactment is also to be advised because of the complexicity of the market to be regulated and the authorities acquired for enforcement.Furthermore an examination has to be made of the ways of and the extent whereto, the administrative activities concerning the enforcement of the alcohol retail trade law and the suggested regulation, are to be coordinated. It seems wise to include, whether or not suitable and or desired locations, for both production and provision establishments, in the development plan on a municipal level. In this manner local authorities can, overcome possible difficulties concerning town and country planning as well as public order and get to a better spreading and control over the number of provision facilities. A regulation of the current situation is also to be preferred from a public health and health assistance point of view. Obligations concerning information, guidance and other preventive measures can be obtained by means of a licensing system. In this manner potential consumers will have better knowledge of the dangers of very frequent and/or excessive cannabis use and a better contribution to the restriction to sensible use patterns can be achieved.
Several reasons can be indicated why a regulation resembling the current alcohol retail trade law is to be preferred of which I will mention a few
The desirability of a regulation on matters of the quality of localities where cannabis is sold or commercially grown and of the individuals that practice such a business as well as the circumstances under which the sale of cannabis products can give cause for particular danger.
Such grounds were also at the basis of the alcohol retail trade law 9.
Being a drug with so called acceptable health risks10 makes cannabis extremely suitable for a regulation resembling the alcohol retail trade. This kind of regulation will create a supervision and control by the administration in conjunction with public order, town and country planning and public health. The basis of such administrative systems is already present within the framework of the alcohol retail trade law
IV. International and specific definitions
Foreign governments and International Health and Drug Control organizations can be considered to be acquainted with the current situation in respect of cannabis in The Netherlands. The undesirability of the negative effects of a renewed criminalization of cannabis on public health and the social position of users gives good reason to prefer a further regulation of this situation to cannabis policies applied elsewhere.
Dutch cannabis policy has accomplished positive results in respect of the separation of drug markets. This seems to result to a decreasing number of new hard drug users when related to other countries. The number of cannabis users has not shown a significant rise when related to other countries. Users, because of the depenalization of 1976, are not confronted with the penal system and can lead regular integrated lives comparable to those of average consumers of legal drugs.
Consequently a further regulation of the present situation from a public health point of view and more scope given by neighboring countries, for The Netherlands to gain experience with such a policy, seem quite justifiable. Provided however that any traffic concerning cannabis across the frontier without written consent issued by the government remains a punishable act. Such a policy would be in full compliance with the object and purpose of the Single Convention concerning Narcotic Drugs, New York, 1961, for the aim and target of this policy is the prevention and or fight of addiction and illicit drug trade.
Observing the sections 28 and 23 of this Single Convention and Article 3 of the United Nations Convention of Vienna, 1988,
Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, New York, 1961
Control of cannabis
Art 28. - 1. If a Party permits the cultivation of the cannabisplant for the production of cannabis or cannabis resin, it shall apply thereto the system of controls as provioded in article 23 respecting the control of the opium poppy.
- 2. This Convention shall not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes.
- 3. The Parties shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, the leaves of the cannabis plant.
National opium agencies
Art 23. - 2. Each such Party shall apply the following provisions to the cultivation of the opium poppy for the production of opium and to opium:
- a. The Agency shall designate the areas in which, and the plots of land on which, cultivation of the opium poppy for the purpose of producing opium shall be permitted.
- b. Only cultivators licensed by the Agency shall be authorized to engage in such cultivation.
- c. Each license shall specify the extent of the land on which the cultivation is permitted.
- d. All cultivators of the opium poppy shall be required to deliver their total crops of opium to the Agency. The Agency shall purchase and take physical possession of such crops as soon as possible, but not later than four months after the end of the harvest.
- e. The agency shall, in respect of opium, have the exclusive right of importing, exporting, wholesale trading and maintaining stocks other than those held by manufacturers of opium alkaloids, medicinal opium or opium preparations.
3. The governmental functions referred to in paragraph 2 shall be discharged by a single government agency if the constitution of the Party concerned permits it.
United Nations Convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances,Vienna 1988
Art 3. -1. Each Party shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offences under its domestic law, when committed intentionally:
- I. The production, manufacture, extraction, preparation, offering, offering for sale, distribution, sale, delivery on any terms whatsoever, brokerage, dispatch, dispatch in transit, transport, importation or exportation of any narcotic drug or any psychotropic substance contrary to the provisions of the 1961 Convention, the 1961 Convention as amended or the 1971 Convention;
- II. The cultivation of opium poppy, coca bush or cannabis plant for the purpose of the production of narcotic drugs contrary to the provisions of the 1961 Convention and the 1961 Convention as amended
We can come to the following conclusions.
When an administrative order places the food and drugs inspection or a National Cannabis Bureau in charge of the tasks, as mentioned in the Single Convention art.23, to be carried out by a government agency, a licensing system is no longer contradictory to the contents of the Single Convention. In fact the only way to regulate the production and trade of substances governed by this Convention in compliance with the International Treaties on Narcotic and/or Psychotropic Substances is by means of a National Agency thereby creating a legal market and control system.
To my opinion certain specific regulations, in respect of the following subjects are to be included in a cannabis act:
- 1. In conformity with the Alcohol retail trade law the Ministry of Wellfare, Health and Cultural Affairs will be the suitable national governing body for the execution of a cannabis act in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, regional and local authorities.
- The Ministry of Welfare, Health and Cultural Affairs seems to be in the best position to deal with affairs concerning psychotropic substances.The Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco department of this Ministry has a long and large experience in matters related to these agents and analogous regulations.
- 2. It will be good sense when establishments, that have a license to sell cannabis to the general public, give evidence of this by means of a hall mark provided by the Agency. Any other soliciting or advertising in respect of cannabis is not to be desired to my opinion11.
- 3. By reason of public order, town and country planning and public health a license as mentioned is to be granted by the Municipal Executive after consulting the Public Health Department.
- 4. On account of the as yet illegal status of cannabis in other countries and The Single Convention, NY 1961 regulations are to be made remaining cannabis- importation or exportation liable to imprisonment, when executed without explicit permission of for example the Minister of Health.
- 5. The growing of cannabis for personal use is to be kept outside of the desired regulation.
- This can be achieved by indicating any production of more than ten cannabis plants as commercial production for which a license is required.
- 6. A regulation granting power to formulate requirements in respect of packaging - such as an indication of strength, quality and other consumer aimed information - should be adopted.
- 7. Special requirements in respect of food containing cannabis , such as special packaging warning for the narcotic nature of the food contained, is badly needed. The experience of the fact that the dosage of cannabis is more difficult to judge when eaten combined with the fact that it is usually impossible to tell the cannabis containing nature of these products calls for extra caution. Especially children can be tempted by the (candy like) looks of these products while not aware of the fact that they are narcotics.
- I will finish my plea, for an approach of cannabis utilizing administrative law in stead of criminal law, observing a change of view in The Netherlands as well as abroad, with respect to narcotic substance use. This is expressed by various initiatives such as The Franfkfurt Resolution12, experiments with narcotic admission, introduction of the Opportunity Principle for certain drug offences in parts of Germany as well as by statements of police, political, judicial and science officials worldwide.
©1994 Mario Louis Sylvester Lap, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (1952) is staffmember policy and legal affairs at the NIAD,
Netherlands Institute on Alcohol and Drugs, Utrecht.
publications: Het recht op roes [the Right to intoxication], 1992, TADP [Magazine for Alcohol, Drugs and other Psychotropic Substances].Concept Cannabiswet met bijbehorende Memorie van Toelichting [Draft of a Cannabis Act with accompanying explanatory memorandum], 1992 NIAD [Netherlands Institute on Alcohol and Drugs].Een vergunningenstelsel voor cannabis, [A licensing system for cannabis], 1993, Justitiële Verkenningen [Magazine of the Ministry of Justice], 19, 111-118.Van nederweed en koffieshops [On dutch marijuana and coffeeshops], 1993, Proces [Magazine for penal law and criminology].Reactie op het rapport over 1992 van de INCB, [Response to the 1992 report of the International Narcotics Control Board], Freek Polak and Mario Lap, 1993, TADP [Magazine for Alcohol, Drugs and other Psychotropic Substances].
- 1. Similar commissions were installed in various countries, like the Le Dain Commission in Canada and the Shafer commission in the U.S.A.
- 2. Van Nederweed en koffieshops [On Dutch marijuana and coffeeshops], 1993, Proces [Magazine for penal law and criminology.
- 3. Current research by the NIAD shows an increase over the last three years but an equal increase is reported in the surrounding countries with more repressive regimes toward cannabis. H. Kuiper: Prevalence of Cannabis Use in The Netherlands, NIAD, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1992. basic data on substance use among schoolgoing youngsters from age 10 and up, NIAD, july 1993
- 4. Els Noorlander: Cannabis use in The Netherlands from the perspective of health care, Amsterdam drug Magazine
- 5 . Guidelines for the investigation and penal action policy concerning the cannabis retail trade, the so called AHOJ-G guide lines
- No advertising
- No hard drugs
- No disturbances of the public order
- No sale to minors
- No whole sale
- 6. Hasjish.
- Cannabis-product consisting of pressed cannabis-pollen (marroccan, libanees, afghan ) and/or dried cannabis-raisin (nepalese, cashmere).
- 7. Marijuana or weed;
- Dried parts (preferrably tops) of cannabis sativa;
- An estimate of 50 to 60% of the Dutch cannabis market is provided for by cannabis grown in The Netherlands. This Netherweed or Skunk is usually cannabis cultivated using the "sensemilla" (cannabis without seeds) method and of good quality.
- 8. Proceedings in Parliament of april 1993 concerning drug policy.
- The Netherlands are tradionally governed by a coalition of political parties of whom the CDA (christian democrats) and the PvdA (social democrats) were in government during this debate. At the course of the debate the Environmental Party (opposition) introduced the licensing system as suggested by the author as a legislative proposal. The PvdA than proposed this licensing system, by administrative order, leaving the Opiumact intact. The CDA did not agree and a compromise was found by means of the investigation of the modalities of a licensing system. An investigation which to the best of my knowledge is still going on.
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