Reforms to the Netherland’s opaque cannabis laws are finally underway after an agreement was struck on a four-year trial to provide cafes with a legal and regulated supply of product.
Under existing law, cannabis can be sold over the counter in licensed coffee shops, but it is illegal to produce and supply the drug.
From 2021, 10 areas will acquire a legal supply of top quality cannabis from regulated producers for their cafes, in a bid to reduce black market activity.
Indicating the contentious issue is still not settled, the four largest cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, are excluded from the the trial.
Officials decided it would be too dangerous and onerous to organise if the major cities overnight decided to cut off their existing suppliers. Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Hellevoetsluis, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Zaanstad are the towns where trial will be held.
The Netherland’s liberal drug laws have long split opinion, and cultivations remains a touchy subject as home-growing is outlawed in a country associated with recreational public smoking of the drug.
Amsterdam is a major tourist destination for cannabis enthusiasts but the country has turned a blind eye to the way cafes acquire their stock. Illicit growers supply the market while authorities ignore the transaction.
However, concerns over black market creep and the closure of hundreds of cafes over the last decade has forced the government to pursue a fully regulated market in order to not lose the tens of millions of euros generated annually from cannabis tourism.
Cities were reluctant to become involved in the government trial initially, with concerns any legitimate supply would be more expensive and turn away customers.
The trial will run at 79 coffee shops, which will report back the success of being supplied by legal growers between 2021 and 2025. Should the trial result in a positive change, the Dutch government will attempt to extend it nationwide and roll out a fully legal supply of marijuana for every cafe in the country.
In announcing the decision, Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and health minister Bruno Bruins said consumer protection was the main priority. The pair believe the plan could end the “illogical and inconsistent” policy that puts cafes in hock to illegal suppliers.
Licensed growers have costly export contracts and there is currently no indication of prices they will offer the cafes, who have already warned that if the cost of buying is not maintained, cannabis users will simply go direct to the black market.