Sunday, August 19, 2018


So what is the situation with the Dutch coffeeshops in recent times? The cannabis control system appears to be in a state of flux. Is legalisation in the Netherlands now inevitable in the next five years?

[Left] The iconic Mellow Yellow was forced to close on December 31st 2016. 

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction says (March 2018) that there are 573 coffee shops in 103 of the 380 municipalities in The Netherlands, including The Hague. A  report from The Economist [10th Jan 2017] estimated that, since 1995, the number of coffeshops in the Dutch capital has been reduced by more than half, from 350 to just 167.  

This closely regulated network of places in Amsterdam where visitors can buy and smoke cannabis - used by one in four of the 17m tourists in 2016 -  is considered by the liberal city authorities to be the way of keeping soft drugs out of the hands of criminals.

But the government in the Hague, the political capital of the Netherlands, has clamped down by banning coffeeshops near the border from selling to tourists and forcing the closure of coffeeshops which are less than 250m from schools. 

'Mellow Yellow' was a victim of this latter ruling (it was 230m from a hairdressing school) as were nearly 20 others. Thirty more were closed some years before during a clean-up of the red light district but the majority of coffeeshops in the city, says The Economist, 'went out of business either because they ran into trouble with law enforcement (there have been several shootings recently) or because they couldn’t hack it financially. A “no growth” policy means coffeeshops are petering  [out?] because no licenses are being handed out for new ones to replace those that have closed.'

[According to an NPR report and a Guardian piece, both in 2018, Amsterdam is suffering from 'overtourism' (as is Venice, Dubrovnik and Barcelona). In 2017 tourist numbers went up to 18.5m, an 11% rise on the previous year. The city government has responded by doubling the tax on hotel rooms to 6%, banning short-term Airbnb in the city centre and new souvenir shops. In early August more than 2m of the city's 85,000 inhabitants now go abroad on holiday to avoid the tourists,]

So the coffeeshops that remain have to deal with a higher demand. This means, in some cases, coverting from being a cosy cafe to just doing take-aways. They are allowed legally to only hold 500 grams of marijuana at any one time which 'makes their couriers more vulnerable to robberies. It could also push proprietors to turn to criminals for their increased supply needs.'  There has also been an increase in street dealers.

In Febreuary 2017 the Financial Times reported that the Dutch parliament had narrowly approved a bill that would create a regulated supply chain of growers who are permitted to cultivate the drug without being arrested. This removes a legal loophole that left coffeeshops open to prosecution for obtaining supplies for their businesses. At that time, the cannabis bill still had to be approved in the Dutch senate.

The FT reports: 'Yet at the same time Dutch police have gone after those who grow the drug, dismantling nearly 6,000 plantations in 2015 alone, according to NRC, a Dutch newspaper. This policy discrepancy led to criminal gangs becoming heavily involved in cannabis production, according to the bill’s supporters. They also argue that allowing its cultivation would reduce the grip of organised crime on supply and cut its export to other countries.'

In March 25th 2018, the New York Times  published an article 'Solving the Dutch Pot Paradox: Legal to Buy, but Not to Grow' by Chistopher F, Schuetze which examined this issue. It says the Dutch government has proposed a pilot program to explore the effects of legalizing, standardizing and taxing professional-grade marijuana operations which it is hoped will remove organised gangs from the supply chain.
'Last month, the national police union, Politie Bond, released a stinging report warning of the growth of organized crime in the country, fueled by the drug trade. 
The Netherlands fulfills many characteristics of a narco-state. Detectives see a parallel economy emerging,” the report stated, noting that while crime over all had decreased, those producing and trafficking drugs were becoming ever more sophisticated.'
 [A piece about this report in The Guardian claims that 'A large majority of ecstasy taken in Europe and the US comes from labs in the south of the country, which are increasingly run by Moroccan gangs involved in the production of cannabis. Half of the €5.7bn a year of cocaine taken in Europe comes through the port of Rotterdam, according to Europol.']
Referring back to the pilot programme, Schuetze reports that:
'The proposal, which is being shaped in committee and is scheduled for a vote in Parliament in the summer, would allow six to 10 Dutch cities to legally produce and sell cannabis for four years.
 Although only the rough outline of the proposal is known so far, the law would most likely license official growers, who will then be allowed to grow specific strains, similar to how medical marijuana is handled in the Netherlands.
Whatever final shape the pilot project takes, it is likely to create a multimillion-dollar industry, and stakeholders — from corporate greenhouse suppliers to coffee shop owners — are vying for a say. 
“We ask to be part of making the rules,” said Nicole MaalstĂ©, an academic who helps represent nearly half the 567 Dutch coffee shops nationwide. “We want to be partners in this.”
Schuetze's story was filed from the city of Breda in the south of the Netherlands:
'The coffee shops are a fixture of neighborhood life in many Dutch cities...A shared fear among those connected to the current coffee shop scene is that a fully open and commercial system would squeeze out the smaller growers they have come to count on.
But others see such a shake-up as an inevitable part of commercialization.
“Whether you like it or not, the consumption is so widespread that you have to organize the production,” said Mr. Depla, the mayor of Breda.'


 In 'Cannabis smoking outlawed in The Hague's city centre' by James Crisp [The Telegraph 16th April 2018] he reports that The Hague has banned cannabis smoking on the streets of its city centre and in major shopping areas and the central railway station after complaints from residents. 'Local politicians had considered outlawing cannabis use across the whole city but opted to pinpoint certain areas instead. 

'Several other Dutch local authorities have considered similar moves...Rotterdam, which has moved to cut its number of coffee shops, banned pot-smoking near schools. Later, the ban was extended to the whole of the city, making it illegal to smoke a joint on the street.'

In 'Dutch Cities Don't Love Weed' by Feargus O' Sullivan published on the CityLab website (20th April 2018) he writes his views on The Hague ban
'The Hague’s new ban on the public consumption is the latest signal of the country’s waning tolerance... the tide seems to be turning against general tolerance in the Netherlands, with increasing curbs being placed on cannabis trade and public consumption. So why is this tightening up occurring here at a time when other countries are moving toward relaxing their laws?
'The truth is that the Netherlands has been trying to curb some aspects of the weed business for a while now. As things stand, cannabis possession is technically illegal, but for personal consumption, that law is ignored. Amsterdam (later followed by Rotterdam) banned coffee shops from setting up within 250 meters (820 feet) of secondary schools as far back as 2011.  
'Meanwhile, the whole country came close to limiting weed sales back in 2012, when the government proposed a “Weed Pass” system that would limit cannabis sales to national residents, replacing a cannabis club membership system that had long been in place in the county’s three southernmost provinces. While a few border towns kept the system, the pilot was largely abandoned due to fears that it increased black-market street trading.' 
'Consumption isn’t necessarily the target here—the Netherlands has long had comparatively low levels of cannabis use compared to other European countries, anyway. It’s more about combatting a sense of public untidiness and tacit official approval for weed use...Frustration at publicly active stoners is also partly influenced by the country’s ongoing anti-tourist backlash.'

 On the 7th July 2018, the Dutch government in the Hague gave the green light to a wide-ranging experiment to allow six to 10 municipalities around the country to legally grow cannabis.



'A Look Inside Amsterdam’s Cannabis Liberation Day 2018' was published [25th July 2018) on the website. Its a great article with lots of links. Here is a short summary of this reportage of an event featuring the Cannabis University  - an eight-hour program of master classes and panels - which ran alongside the Cannabis Liberation Day "protestival" that took place on June 17th in Amsterdam’s Flevopark.

 One of the main sessions had Derrick Bergman as interviewer. He is the chair and founder of the Dutch Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition (VOC for short) who started the festival in 2009 and has run it since. This year's event was the largest ever (estimated 10,000-15,000 people) and is the last. Bergman explained why in an email a few weeks after the festival:
 'We’ve spent over ten months preparing for this final edition, which means there’s less time, energy and money for our other activities, such as lobbying politicians, informing media, running campaigns. Compared to the situation when we started in 2009, the world has really changed, and we believe legalization of cannabis has become inevitable here in the Netherlands. We feel our priority should now be to make sure that regulation of cannabis will not turn into ‘prohibition 2.0.’ This means we will focus on influencing policy makers, politicians, and journalists.”

Bergam interviewed 'The Bulldog' coffeeshop impresario Henk de Vries, and Ben Dronkers, the who founded Sensi Seeds.
 'Sharing a stage—and a joint—at Cannabis University, the men spoke for their allotted 25 minutes about the past 50 years, during which the Dutch government has turned a blind eye to cannabis use and vending yet punished its commercial cultivation.... It was momentous. Nowadays, De Vries rarely gives interviews. Dronkers lives in Malaysia, though was in town after having opened 'We Are Mary Jane: Women of Cannabis', a new exhibition at the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum (which he also established in 1985).
  'Though one hails from Rotterdam and the other from rivaling Amsterdam, Dronkers and De Vries revealed remarkably similar backgrounds. Just shy of 70, both got involved with dealing “grass” through proximity to the “African weed,” as De Vries termed it, that arrived on ships in their respective cities’ ports. Each waltzed into readymade networks through their fathers’ business dealings.
'Dronkers’ dad sold secondhand goods—schlepping around used fridges was a convenient way to transport illicit substances. By 1984, Dronkers had opened Rotterdam’s first coffeeshop, Sensi Smile. 
'De Vries’ dad had a sex shop, which became The Bulldog’s flagship location once De Vries decided selling porn was, in a word, “shit” (reportedly throwing the collection of videos and printed matter in a canal) and transformed the place. Its vibe was modeled after an old Dutch koffiehuis, where people were expected to relax, bitch about social and political grievances, and consume whatever they desired.
'A characteristically Dutch knack for commerce and entrepreneurialism made them savvy and solvent. But being broadminded free spirits kept Dronkers and De Vries unwavering in their vision of a green society. When both men described countless raids and arrests and Bergman asked why they still bothered, they were matter-of-fact. “You get raided a hundred times, a thousand times. All this hassle, all this shit, normal people would. Why did you not give up?
“Well, because you believe in what you do. And we knew there was nothing wrong with it; on the contrary, there was something good. We couldn’t give up,” responded Dronkers. “We want to legalize. We want this plant to be a plant for all humankind, for all its purposes.”
FINAL WORDS                    
'When it comes to the cannabis culture, it's sad. The Grasshopper, which is one of the biggest coffee shops in Amsterdam, is being shut down. Also, coffee shops were able to stay open until 3, now the vast majority of them shut down at 1 o'clock. So many of the great growers have left. The whole culture has fled and shifted to Spain, Colorado, and, of course, California. So the whole culture of Amsterdam has really changed. It's definitely moving in the wrong direction. All it does, as we've seen in America and elsewhere, is that the industries don't go away, they just shift. They take different form and they shift to places where you can get into a lot more trouble and get hurt, to be honest.'
'With the book, I really wanted to create an experience for people who smoke. I think people in the cannabis community would enjoy it because it captures my transition from someone who never really smoked that much before I went to Amsterdam. It shows how innocent the plant really is. It's not a big deal. It's just a part of life. It shows that you can go to an Ivy League school and smoke a joint and be fine.'
         Source: Interview with David Wienir on 

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