Last weekend, the Netherlands announced that all restaurants, bars, sex clubs, and cannabis coffee shops would be forced to close until April 6 in order to stop the spread of coronavirus. The announcement kicked off a wave of panic buying, and Dutch citizens lined up around the block to wait for their chance to buy enough pot to last them through the quarantine.
Cannabis sales and use are still technically illegal in the Netherlands, but the possession of small quantities of pot for personal-use is decriminalized. Cannabis sales and public use are tolerated within specific “coffee shops” in major cities like Amsterdam, but any other method of selling weed remains strictly prohibited.
When legal coffee shops shut their doors on Sunday night, black market dealers seized on their chance to fill the void. Both online and in the streets, illegal pot dealers made it clear that weed would still be available to anyone who needed it. “As soon as the ban was announced, we started getting emails from people offering to supply us,” an anonymous college student told DutchNews.nl.
The sudden rush of black market activity convinced government officials to rethink their decision. On Monday, federal and state government officials convened a meeting with local police to discuss the ramifications of allowing the black market to dominate weed sales during the quarantine. After the meeting, the Dutch government rescinded the ban, announcing that coffee shops would be allowed to re-open. But, like restaurants, these businesses will only be able to sell weed to go.
Traditionally, these shops have allowed customers to roll and smoke joints in ventilated areas, but on-site consumption will now be banned for the duration of the quarantine. Coffee shops are now required to follow the same rules as restaurants or snackbars: they will be allowed to continue selling weed to customers, as long as these customers do not light up or linger in the shops.
Dutch health officials are reporting that the virus has spread rapidly in the past few days. There are now 1,705 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections, up from 1,135 on Sunday, and 43 deaths have now been linked to this deadly virus. The Netherlands' quasi-legal weed industry seems like it will survive the quarantine, thanks to the new policy, but the country's legal sex industry has not seen the same luck. Sex clubs and brothels will remain closed until April 6.
The reversal of the coffee shop ban brings The Netherlands in line with most adult-use states in the US. There has been some debate over whether access to legal weed is an “essential service” or not, but most states are allowing legal pot shops to continue serving customers, either on a one-on-one basis at retail locations, or via delivery.