Long before U.S. states began to legalize recreational cannabis, the Netherlands was notorious as one of the only places in the world where marijuana could be purchased legally. Tourists planning to visit Amsterdam's "coffee shops" tend to imagine the country as a marijuana wonderland, but in fact the country's cannabis laws are quite restrictive, leading some advocates to take extreme measures to push for change.
Cannabis is actually technically illegal in the Netherlands, but authorities allow specific cafes in some cities to sell up to five grams of pot or hash to any adult per day. Individuals are allowed to grow up to five cannabis plants each, but selling the drug in bulk is illegal. These restrictions force the owners of these legal cannabis cafes to turn to the black market to find their product.
"It forces us to legal splits," Hendrik Brand, owner of the de Baron coffee shop in Breda, said to the New York Times. "One foot on the legal side and the other foot somewhere else."
Traditionally, these cafes have sourced their extra product from small, local cannabis grows, but Dutch police regularly raid and shut down these illegal operations. In recent years, however, local law enforcement have reported seeing organized crime gangs getting more and more involved in the cannabis black market.
A recent report by the national police union, Politie Bond, stated that "the Netherlands fulfills many characteristics of a narco-state," according to the New York Times. The report noted that "detectives see a parallel economy emerging," where drug traffickers are becoming increasingly sophisticated even though overall crime rates in the country are dropping. "We have to be honest about the current situation, where organized crime has taken over marijuana growing situations," advised Arno Rutte, a lawmaker with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, one of the four parties currently governing the country.
In order to resolve the situation, legislators have proposed a pilot program that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis sales throughout the country. The program would only allow the production and sale of cannabis in ten or fewer Dutch cities, and would only legalize these operations for four years, in order to give the government an opportunity to consider the results before moving forward with further legislation. The proposal is currently being debated in a legislative committee, so full details are yet unknown, but the final version of the proposal is expected to come before Parliament for a vote this summer.
In the meantime, activists are pushing hard for cannabis reform, with one activist going so far as to attempt suicide to bring attention to the issue. Last week, 65-year-old Hans Kamperman threw himself off the balcony of the Dutch Parliament during a debate on organized crime. Kamperman has been advocating for cannabis reform ever since being arrested for growing five pot plants in his garden, and had "been camping in front of the House of Representatives for four weeks ... to draw attention to the legalization of soft drugs," a witness reported to The Mirror.
"Forgive me this deed, I have to do this to shake politicians awake. I can not reach them with my message," Kamperman wrote on Facebook, according to NL Times. "Cannabis is criminalized while it can save the Earth and is a medicine for many people. I do this for the Earth, the people. They have to wake up!! Such a shame that it must be this way, I would have loved to stay with you. I ask you to continue the fight for legalization." Kamperman survived his suicide attempt and is now in the hospital.