The Government of the Netherlands has authorized for the first time an experiment to test whether the cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis can be legalized. It tries to stop the security problems generated by the policy of tolerance for the consumption of hashish and marijuana that began in 1976. The control of drug production appears in the electoral programs of most of the parties with parliamentary representation. Hence, starting in mid-December, two suppliers will supply legally grown cannabis to around twenty coffeeshops, the places where it is allowed, located in the cities of Tilburg and Breda. By 2024, 10 producers are expected to supply a dozen towns in a trial that will last four years.
The trial is an attempt to monitor the quality of the product that reaches the consumer while stopping, at the same time, the criminal networks that dominate it. The production and sale of soft drugs, as classified by the Opium Law, is a crime in the Netherlands. In the seventies, however, the legislator thought that allowing marijuana consumption in coffeeshops—today there are 570 spread across 102 of the country’s 345 municipalities—would prevent street traffic. At that time, cannabis arrived illegally mainly from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon. The result of the policy applied to coffeeshops is paradoxical: adults enter without problems through the main door; In the back, its owners buy drugs from individuals who operate in criminal networks. In the 1990s, Morocco came to dominate the European market. Now Iran, Albania and… the Netherlands also appear on the list of exporters, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), cited in a Dutch police report published in 2021.
What happened in the nineties? The answer lies in the innovation applied to horticulture, which facilitated the illegal cultivation of cannabis in the Netherlands. It is the so-called nederwiet (Dutch herb) that led to exponential growth in the market. The Dutch police dismantle local plantations, but the drug is highly appreciated abroad “for its quality and the high level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis,” according to the same police study. In another of its sections, it indicates that “approximately between 53 and 924 tons are sold abroad.” The calculation is from 2014 and was made by the Research and Documentation Center of the Ministry of Justice. It is the most recent.
“Fifty years ago, no thought was given to the problems caused by the ‘back door’ supply of coffeeshops. It is time to create a closed chain that goes from the supplier to the consumer without depending on criminal networks,” Paul Depla, social democratic mayor of Breda, explains to EL PAÍS in a telephone conversation. The Dutch customer does not know what is actually contained in the marijuana sold on his land because the production is illegal and is not reviewed. “Public health is in danger,” he says. “We have to be realistic: cannabis is consumed and criminals are still there. It’s not going to change. That is why control is important. It is about generating a national product tested to avoid added substances and at competitive prices,” he asserts. If this is achieved, it seems that the user “will opt for regulated cannabis instead of illegal cannabis and we will become strong against criminals.”
Although coffeeshops cannot store more than 500 grams of drugs on their premises, both the Prosecutor’s Office and the Dutch police know that this amount is insufficient to serve customers. The owners end up buying more, but cannot store it in the establishment itself. Although the police do not give details on this aspect, they do not usually intervene if there is no public disorder and as long as the cafes are 250 meters from schools, recreation centers for minors and places for homeless people or addicts. What is gaining ground is the sale of marijuana through Instagram, Telegram and WhatsApp, “and in marketing soft and hard drugs are brought together, when one of the main objectives of the Dutch policy applied to cannabis consumption was to separate them,” according to a study published in 2020 by the Center for Safety and Crime Prevention, an independent foundation.
The Government emphasizes the need for coffeeshops to inform and warn of the risks of consumption. Margriet van Laar, an expert at the Trimbos Institute, an independent organization specialized in addictions, does not expect a significant increase, although she recognizes that “the quality or flavor of the cannabis that will be legal in these four years may attract new users, or increase consumption.” among those who already take it.” “We will see it in the evaluation of the experiment,” she writes, in an email message. She points out that perhaps young people believe that the drug is not so harmful “because the Government allows its production and sale for a time.” “This risk must be counteracted with greater prevention and information, especially at the local level,” she adds.
The possible legalization of cannabis goes beyond the Dutch debate. This August, the German government approved a plan to legalize the possession and consumption of up to 25 grams of cannabis, or three plants, for personal use. They can be purchased in cannabis clubs with a maximum of 500 members. The rule has not yet been approved by Parliament and, for now, the only legal cultivation and use is for medical reasons. In 2013, Uruguay was the first country in the world to regulate the cannabis market. Mexico, Canada and 16 states in the United States allow recreational use. Georgia, South Africa and Jamaica have done the same. In the European Union, Portugal has decriminalized the use of narcotics and in Malta it is legal to grow and consume cannabis for recreational purposes. In Spain, private consumption is possible and in authorized clubs, and it is penalized in public.
In the Netherlands, the trial was approved in 2017, but has suffered delays since then, and Amsterdam City Council is still considering joining with one of its districts. For now, the two growers will supply cannabis free of heavy metals, pesticides or aflatoxins (caused by fungi), to the coffeeshops in Tilburg and Breda, in the south of the country. The test will last approximately six months and they will be able to sell both legally planted cannabis and that acquired in the illegal sector. When more suppliers are ready to offer legally grown merchandise — around the first or second quarter of 2024 — there will be a six-week transition period. During that period, establishments in all participating cities will continue to offer both types of weed. Afterwards, only the regulated one. “The experiment should last four years. Once its results have been evaluated, the decision on how to regulate cannabis production will depend on the new Government that emerges from the elections,” say sources from the Ministry of Health.
Harvests from the two licensed suppliers to date will be analyzed in laboratories, but no limit has been placed on THC content. The same thing happens with cannabidiol (CBD), another chemical substance in the plant. “We serve what the market asks for and what the coffeeshops offer. There is talk of the high level of THC in local cannabis, but the reality is that there is no special demand for that type of cannabis that is considered stronger,” says, on the phone, the grower who will serve the cafes of Breda and Tilburg from the 15th. from December. He prefers to maintain his anonymity and that of his company, and believes that there will be no problems when the other producers join in. “It took a long time for the Government to make this decision. We have a high-tech system without pesticides or additives, as required by the experiment. They are not precarious plantations. It is organic cannabis monitored so that people know what they are taking.”
All growers must pass a rigorous prior examination to see if they have a criminal record, or if their company is in any way related to criminal networks. In total, around 80 coffeeshops will join the trial, and suppliers will have to demonstrate that they can cover that market. Quality control of the crops is carried out by the Dutch Authority for Food and Consumer Safety. For its part, the Justice and Security Inspection Service will supervise the controlled supply of cannabis. In this first phase, during the first six months, “the coffeeshops in Breda and Tilburg will be able to store 500 grams of legally grown marijuana, and another 500 grams of that purchased from their usual suppliers,” Health sources explain. And they add: “During the six-week transition stage, and then throughout the entire experiment, your deposit should not exceed what you need to cover your customers’ weekly demand.” Mayors can decide on a case-by-case basis whether to impose a lower limit. The cost is a separate chapter, since no official rules have been established. “The grower and the owner of the establishment will agree on the purchase and sale prices. The Government does not intervene at this point, although the progression will be followed for its study,” spokespersons for the Ministry of Justice report. None of the four cafes contacted by this newspaper, in Breda and Tilburg, have answered calls to explain their situation.
A delicate aspect of the experiment remains to be defined: the transport of the drug. Justice points out that “the responsibility lies with the producer; “He must choose the company and type of vehicle, with specific requirements that are not made public, so that they are safe.” The grower who prefers not to give his name considers that the security is “like that of a jewelry store or similar.” “You have to be careful, but I don’t think there will be any difficulties,” he says. The mayor of Breda, the Prosecutor’s Office and the police make up the security triangle at the local level. On the other hand, the town councils will supervise, as usual, the work of the coffeeshops. “Since Dutch agriculture managed to harvest illegal cannabis, the discussion about cultivation and sale is political. Mayors, from the right and the left, from large and small cities, know that the current system must change,” says Paul Depla.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
#Netherlands #launches #produce #cannabis #coffee #shops #stop #black #market #insecurity #streets