The four biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ING, ABN Amro and the Volksbank (formerly SNS) – have lent cannabis cafe owners some €1.1bn using 170 coffee shops as security, the Financieele Dagblad said on Wednesday.
The figures come from a major research project carried out by the FD and investigative journalism website Investico which looked at the connections between Dutch firms, entrepreneurs and the public sector, and the cannabis industry.
The research also shows that brewers such as Heineken and AB InBev have also lent money to people active in the sector while 46 of the country’s 570 coffee shops are located in property run by a housing cooperation.
The findings are particularly significant given that earlier research suggests around 25% of coffee shops have links to organised crime, the paper said.
Criminologist Vyrille Fijnaut told the paper that the findings are not a great surprise. ‘In terms of paying off a loan or paying rent, coffee shops are not a financial risk,’ Fijnaut said.
Twelve people on the Quote 500 rich list have investments in 19 coffee shops and even the tax office has accepted two coffee shops as security for a loan, the paper said.
‘This shows the duplicity of Dutch drugs policy and Dutch society,’ professor Pieter Tops told the paper.
‘People will say the market is without morals and coffee shops are legal,’ he said. ‘But a lot of money is being invested in a world where it is known that there are connections with criminal organisations. People are investing – legally – in a world that is illegal and earning money.’
Although coffee shops are licenced and the police turn a blind eye to the possession of small amounts of cannabis, how the drug gets to the coffee shop remains a controversial subject and growing the plant is still illegal.
The FD estimates coffee shop turnover to total some €1bn a year.
In 2010, the government and Dutch banking association VNG was forced to intervene after coffee shop owners – who run local authority licenced businesses – complained they were finding it hard to get a bank.
Nevertheless, the big banks told the FD that they are less willing or not at all willing to lend money to coffee shops. Housing corporations including Ymrere and De Key also told the paper they no longer rent property to be used as a cannabis cafe.
Most – 86%- of the loans in the FD research come from prior to 2010, the paper said.
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