The government is planning to classify strong strains of marijuana and cannabis as a Class A drug alongside heroin and cocaine, justice minister Ivo Opstelten told parliament in briefing on Monday.
‘Hard drugs have no place in the coffee shops and in the future they will only be able to offer cannabis with a THC level of below 15%,’ the minister said. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana.
The Netherlands has some 500 cannabis cafes, known as coffee shops, where people can buy up to five grammes of the drug for their personal use.
Opstelten did not say when the THC restriction is to be introduced but according to RTL news, it is unlikely to be this year.
Last year a report for the government said marijuana with more than 15% THC is so dangerous it should be classed alongside heroin and cocaine.
Experts say the THC content of Dutch-grown marijuana is between 15% and 18%. Some 75% of the marijuana sold in the country’s cannabis cafes is grown in the Netherlands.
Mark Josemans, spokesman for the Maastricht coffee shop owners association, said the minister is ‘doing all he can to make the illegal circuit as big as possible’.
‘Weak weed in the coffee shops, strong weed on the streets – then the choice is pretty clear,’ he told the Volkskrant. Marijuana with a higher volume of THC is not more dangerous to health, he said. ‘A user smokes less, just as people don’t drink rum out of a beer glass.’
Opstelten also gave more details of the cabinet’s plans to immediately drop the controversial membership scheme – or wietpas – for coffee shops, which was introduced in the south of the country on May 1.
While coffee shops will only be open to people with official documents which show they live in the Netherlands, it will be up to local authorities to decide how to introduce the new rules, he said.
Councils, police and justice ministry officials will draw up ‘good plans’ to counteract drugs nuisance, Opstelten said. ‘The best insights into which measures are effective are found at a local level,’ he said.
Councils should draw up their approach by the new year when the rules come into effect. ‘I want to see serious action,’ Opstelten said. ‘Councils will be able to draw up their own supervisory policy but the rules must eventually be phased in.’
At the beginning of this month, Amsterdam’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan told the Volkskrant newspaper tourists can continue to use Amsterdam’s 220 cannabis cafes, even if they are not resident in the Netherlands.
At least 1.5 million of the city’s seven million visitors a year go to a coffee shop – the name for licenced cafes where small quantities of marijuana can be sold for personal use.
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