The Netherlands’ legal weed experiment kicked off on Friday morning in Breda and Tilburg, with Europe’s first ever licensed and controlled cannabis arriving in city coffeeshops.
Health minister Ernst Kuipers joined Breda’s mayor Paul Delpa and Tilburg’s mayor Theo Weterings in coffeeshop De Baron in Breda to unpack the first box and scan the first barcodes in a low key, early morning launch.
If successful, the decades old gedoogt policy of tolerance, which Delpa brands “devious”, will end and smokers will now know exactly where and how their weed was produced, under strict government control.
In this, the first product phase of the trial, coffeeshops can continuing selling “illegal” marijuana as well as the regulated product and not all outlets will have to take part.
Later, if it is expanded, all coffee shops in the 10 cities where trials are taking place will be restricted to legal marijuana products only.
Kuipers told Dutch News that “this is fully regulated and legally cultivated cannabis. From my perspective as the health minister, the most important thing is that we have excellent control over production and quality. This will prevent contamination from toxic, chemical drugs as we see in other parts of Europe.”
Kuipers said he hopes that the experiment will eventually lead to a reduction in cannabis use throughout the country. “We do know that across Europe and the world, cannabis use has been here for many decades. We were able to provide additional training to businesses who know their customers and products in the supply chain to improve safety and quality.”
While the experiment will provide data about the quality, safety and frequency of cannabis use around the Netherlands and other parts of Europe, Kuipers says there is no current expectation for future experiments involving other types of drugs like ecstasy or cocaine – ideas that have been floated by Amsterdam’s mayor Femka Halsema.
Despite the anti-legalisation party PVV gaining significant power in the recent election, Kuipers is not worried about interference with the experiment. Existing laws, which are approved by parliament, allow it to take place.
“I’m confident that people do want to have data on what full control of the whole process actually means in terms of crime, quality and frequency of use,” he said. “The one message to consumers is to always think about the use of any product and be well informed.”
Cannabis use on the rise
An annual survey published last month by the Trimbos Institute showed that roughly one million people consumed cannabis in the Netherlands in 2022, and there was an increase in use of “risky” cannabis use, with around 240,000 people failing attempts to quit and continuing to smoke alone.
Trimbos sociologist Marjan Möhle sees the experiment as a way to prevent cannabis use, particularly among young people.
“We desperately need professionals in the social domain and healthcare, but also in coffee shops. They have the best opportunities for prevention around the experiment”, she said in a recent post.
Ten growers have been given licences to provide exclusive produce to coffeeshops in Breda and Tilburg, starting December 15th, and then to coffeeshops in another eight municipalities next year, including Groningen and Maastricht. The main trial is expected to take four years.
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