One in seven Dutch coffee shops is set to join an experiment where for the first time cannabis growing is to be legalised and regulated.
Justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and health minister Bruno Bruins on Thursday named the ten districts where all coffee shops will take part in a four year experiment aimed at controlling drug strength and reducing criminality.
The Netherlands’ major four cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, will not take part in the experiment as it was deemed too difficult to include all of their coffee shops – where cannabis is sold and smoked.
Instead, the trial will include Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Hellevoetsluis, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Zaanstad.
The areas – which had submitted a bid to be part of the trial – were green lighted by a special commission on the ‘closed supply cannabis experiment’. The government’s coalition agreement had outlined the trial for between four and ten city councils, and 26 areas had said they were interested, although three withdrew.
A total of 79 coffee shops will, from 2021, be supplied by officially regulated cannabis growers – making up 14% of the total number of shops in the Netherlands.
Grapperhaus and Bruins told MPs in a briefing, however, that the project is not aiming at more permissiveness but better prevention. ‘Protecting consumer health and vulnerable groups is top priority, and the experiment will pay close attention to prevention and providing information,’ they wrote. ‘We are currently drawing up a prevention-based approach.’
Paul Depla, the mayor of Breda and a great advocate of the trial, said it could mark an end to what he believes is an illogical and inconsistent national policy around the soft drug.
‘We are very happy that Breda can take part in the weed trial,’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘More importantly, though, after years of knocking against closed doors in The Hague, we can leave behind its half-hearted tolerance policy. It’s a policy that makes coffeeshops depend on an illegal market dominated by criminals, where the consumer knows absolutely nothing about the quality of the cannabis and how it is grown.
‘After 40 years of inconsistent policy, we can now wave this goodbye.’
In the Netherlands, smoking a small amount of cannabis is currently tolerated but growing is illegal – leaving coffee shops in a grey area where their supply chains are criminal.
However, Dutch police academic Pieter Tops, who visited Canada in a police delegation to learn lessons from abroad, has warned that legalising cannabis there had not removed organised crime from the trade.
The Dutch trial is set to last four years, after which it cannot be extended even if successful and coffee shops will be forbidden from selling ‘foreign’ hashish – which currently makes up about a quarter of sales.
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