Before Canada and parts of the US legalized pot, Amsterdam was renowned as one of the very few places in the world where you could buy weed and smoke it in a cafe without fear of getting thrown in jail. Although the Netherlands has tolerated this small-scale form of pot consumption, the country still prohibits the cultivation of cannabis. As a result, Dutch coffee shops are forced to source their weed from the black market.
But that's about to change. The Netherlands is launching a new experiment that will replace black market grass with quality-controlled legal product. During this four-year trial, the government will grow its own cannabis, which will be supplied to every coffee shop in ten Dutch municipalities. Beginning in 2021, a total of 79 coffee shops — 14 percent of the total number of shops in the Netherlands — will be selling legally grown weed.
A total of 26 municipalities signed up for a chance to participate in the trial, but the law only makes provisions for ten municipalities. After careful consideration, government officials approved Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Hellevoetsluis, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg, and Zaanstad to take part in the experiment.
The Netherlands' four largest cities — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht — will not be participating, as the trial will not provide enough weed to service all of these cities' coffee shops. In Amsterdam alone, there are 170 coffee shops, and Mayor Femke Halsema advised against having each and every one of these shops temporarily abandon their illegal suppliers in favor of legal product.
During the four years that this trial will run, government officials will research the program's impact on public safety, health, and crime. The government will also research the best way to safely deliver their state-produced greens to each coffee shop that is participating in the program.
Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and Health Minister Bruno Bruins said that the government is not working towards full legalization, but is simply trying to ensure that coffee shops are selling safe, legal product. “Protecting consumer health and vulnerable groups is top priority, and the experiment will pay close attention to prevention and providing information,” they said, according to DutchNews. "We are currently drawing up a prevention-based approach.”
Even though nearby Luxembourg is planning to fully legalize adult-use within the next two years, the Netherlands is sticking with its modest approach to cannabis reform. Last year, a Dutch cannabis activist attempted suicide in the Dutch Parliament to draw attention to the country's confused pot laws, but for now, this pilot program seems to be the closest that the Netherlands will get to full legalization.