Dutch cannabis coffee shop sign.

Dutch cannabis coffeeshop sign.

By Chris Bovey

The Dutch government voted in favour of starting trials with a regulated supply chain for the coffeeshops.

Cannabis, while technically not legal in The Netherlands, its sale has been tolerated since the 1970s in licensed coffees shops. However, the supply of the cannabis sold has always been sourced from the black market. This, of course, does not make much sense.

Justice Minister Grapperhaus announced that ten municipalities will be chosen for the mandatory trials for a legal supply chain with no way to opt out.

Coffeeshop proprietors are not happy with the new regulations they describe as ill-thought out and botched. For example, the trials will not allow the sale of Moroccan hashish, forcing consumers used to these products to go to the black market.

I chatted with coffeeshop entrepreneur, Nol van Schaik, who says it is difficult to think of many benefits for participating in this trial.

“The only advantage in my view is that we can finally hand over a complete administration to the tax collector, because the weed is delivered with an invoice,” said van Schaik.

The disadvantages need a lot more explanation insists Nol van Schaik, which he says the central government have not yet realised since they have never consulted coffeeshop owners about the current situation and the possible implications of the proposed experiment.

Nol says the Dutch cannabis trial has been running for over 40 years now and would like to see it end now and go for full legalisation.

“I would like to see it all legalised, the cultivation, supply, storage and sale of cannabis products, or that the entire cannabis chain is banned, from production to consumption. The latter will not be possible, because in the Netherlands we simply have ‘the right to a rush’, we are allowed to use cannabis, so, you will have to be able to buy it somewhere and someone will have to grow it or smuggle it into the country.

“By participating in and observing the long-running experiment, called ‘the tolerance policy for cannabis use and trade’, we know this has not led to a disruption of Dutch society.

“The sale of cannabis via registered coffeeshops, where the soft drug may also be consumed, has not led to a massive switch to hard drugs like heroin (stepping stone theory) as was invariably claimed by some political leaders,” says Mr van Schaik.

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, called cannabis ‘rubbish’, which is a bit ironic when one considers he was seen dancing on his own at a Toppers’ concert.

Mark Rutte dancing at Toppers concert.

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who claims cannabis is rubbish, is caught on camera dancing alone at a concert of naff Dutch pop group, The Toppers.

Nol believes the practice of the Netherlands is observed throughout the world and more appreciated across the national borders than it is by Mr Rutte who he says didn’t exactly show himself an ambassador for the successful Dutch drugs policy during a recent visit to Canada, where cannabis was completely legalised a few days previously.

“Upon review of the data, it appears that there are 25 times as many opiate overdoses in Canada than in the Netherlands.

“Thanks to the Dutch coffeeshop experiment and the favourable figures it has delivered after four decades of tolerance, countries such as Uruguay, Canada and a number of states in the US have decided to fully legalise cannabis, without experimenting, which we, the Dutch coffeeshops and their patrons, did for them,”

More repression, more crime

Photo of Nol van Schaik with a spliff.

Coffeeshop entrepreneur, Nol van Schaik.

Nol maintains the prohibition of the production for and supply of cannabis to coffeeshops is disruptive to society, because of the constantly increased repression by the Dutch government, the trade is now in the hands of tough guys who have taken over the role of the home grower who previously supplied many of the coffeeshops.

“Although it is certain that one cannot die because of the use of cannabis, there are already many deadly victims in the criminal growers circuit, because cannabis is still illegal.

“If the home farmers had been given a license to grow officially for coffeeshops, there would not be that much crime around this special plant.

“If a municipality is selected to participate in the new proposed Cannabis Trial, all coffeeshops in that municipality must participate in this experiment, whether they like it or not.”

Nol says this is strange because all coffeeshops in the surrounding municipalities with coffeeshops will not have to change anything about their trade and way of doing business.

“The government can thus enforce that all coffeeshops in a municipality must participate, but the coffeeshops in neighbouring municipalities, which are located in the same police region, do not have to participate.

“This is because it would not be possible to work in a municipality with two different forms of coffeeshop policy.

“Would this be possible in one police region, for example, Kennemerland, because if Haarlem participates, and Zandvoort, Beverwijk and Velsen do not have to participate, there will inevitably be two types of coffeeshop policy in this judicial region? This should not be possible, because it makes enforcement for the police and judiciary even more complicated than it is today.”

No more foreign hash on the coffeeshop menu

When tolerance started ‘officially’, in 1976, thanks to former Prime Minister Dries van Agt, Nol says there was still no question of Nederwiet and weed gangs, only a few smart smugglers who managed to bring their trade across the Dutch borders

“When the number of coffeeshops increased, to about 1450 in 1995, this led to the emergence of gigantic and ruthless hash gangs. Where there is demand, there will be supply. We now experience the after-effects of this period in our courthouses. Eventually, the need for large batches of hash was largely made unnecessary by the rise of Nederwiet (home growers).

“Besides imported hash, which made up the bulk of the menu of the first coffeeshops, there was only foreign weed, with stems and seeds, from Indonesia, Thailand and India. The tolerance thus related to hash and weed, everything from abroad.

“Thanks to the home growers, we were supplied with Nederwiet from 1986 onwards, in small quantities at first, because the green wave had not really started yet. In 1990, Nederwiet became a household name in coffeeshops, and it largely took over the market, to around 75% of the turnover.

“Through this non-violent takeover of the cannabis market and the reduction of the market share of imported hash and seeded weed to 25%, the smuggling of cannabis became less interesting, it was difficult to sell and had to be hidden for a long time in costly storages.

“The home grower has stopped the large-scale hash trade, not the Dutch police or Justice Department. Hash now comes in smaller quantities into our country, mainly Moroccan hash, but also Charas and Manali from India and recently even yellow Lebanon again.

“However, the current Justice Minister, Grapperhaus, now wants to ban hash and tolerance will be limited to the production of ten varieties of weed and eight varieties of Dutch hash, which will all have to be made from these ten strains. This will lead to the formation of a non-tolerated illegal circuit for hash, as well as lead to consumers buying from a coffeeshop in a neighbouring municipality, where the coffeeshops are excluded from participation in this cannabis trial.

“If I happen to be forced to participate in this ill-considered experiment, I would put our lawyer to work immediately to claim the missed income from hash thanks to Minister Grapperhaus and associates.

“Coffeeshops simply pay taxes and can, therefore, prove on the basis of their records that they lost a part of their turnover due to restrictions imposed by the government. It is inconceivable that Dutch hash could take over the place of foreign hash, that has been tried, and does not work.

A possible solution could consist of the tolerance of hash offices, with inspection and control by the government, and tax payments. The hash office has existed for decades and the transports from Morocco, India, Lebanon and Afghanistan will not stop because of the cannabis trial.

No more edible cannabis products (edibles) on the menu

In the United States cannabis is being legalised in more and more states, with the additional fact that American may consume much more edible marijuana, because they do not want to smoke it, but still want to enjoy the desired intoxication.

Nol says the market is edible cannabis is huge, in 2016 $7.2 billion of cannabis edibles were traded in the US !!

“The health risks are negligible when taken orally, after all, it’s just a herb from the garden.”

“In the Netherlands, more and more coffeeshop visitors stop smoking joints, mostly for health reasons, but they would like to continue enjoying the pleasant rush of cannabis.

This growing group of cannabis consumers then switch to eating it in cakes, muffins, chocolate or a THC-rich syrup waffle.

“If Minister Grapperhaus forbids the edible alternative to cannabis smoking in the coffeeshops in this experiment, it shows little insight, because smoking is strongly discouraged by our government. The prohibition of edibles in coffeeshops would make the illegal circuit, especially the home-delivered illegal vendor, in addition to the foreign hash, a nice trade: Edibles that are not allowed in the coffee hop!”

All coffeeshops with the same 10 strains on the menu, or: McCannabis!

Mr van Schaik warns if Cannabis Trial starts as proposed, with only ten varieties of weed and eight varieties of hash on the menu, either in all coffeeshops in a municipality or in the whole country, which is not yet clear, coffeeshops shall become like hamburger chains, same same, BudKing, or Kentucky Frosty Cannabis.

McCannabis: Marijuana, I'm lovin' it.

Corporate cannabis from McCannabis?

“Now coffeeshops try to enlarge their piece of the pie by offering a unique and deliciously scented cannabis strain, the cannabis consumer will make use of this free choice by getting this kind from the coffeeshop that offers it.

“That will soon no longer apply if all coffeeshops sell, just like McDonald’s or Starbucks, the same products as all other outlets. This is another opportunity for the illegal market to grow, as they will still be able to offer as many cannabis products as they can source from the (illegal) growers that have become redundant. They can also offer it cheaper, because they do not have to pay overheads and taxes, the advantage of illegality. Their only investments are a means of transport, a scale and a smartphone. The growth of illegal trade is then the result of the ‘Grapperhaus effect’.

Cannabis prepacked in fixed quantities?

Nol explained to me when the tolerance policy was originally introduced in The Netherlands it was based on two pillars: Separating the two markets (soft drugs like hash and weed, and the market of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine), and Harm Reduction, which means tolerating the use of drugs that have the least possible risks for the consumers’ health.

The Dutch government’s proposals mean weed will be sold in pre-packed units of 1 gram and 3 grams

“In most coffeeshops, cannabis is sold after being weighed in front of the consumer’s eye, so that he can see what goes into his/her baggy. There are some cannabis consumers who smoke it up in succession, they don’t have the self-control to prevent this, so they devised their own kind of harm reduction, they only buy enough weed to roll one joint at a time, so as not to be tempted to turn one or two more.

“If the government were serious about harm reduction for cannabis consumers, the price of cannabis in the Cannabis trial should be so low that one can roll an affordable joint with one gram of weed, without tobacco.

“This should be recommended and supported by Secretary of State Paul Blokhuis of Health, he is after all working on reducing tobacco use in coffeeshops.”

Unfair competition from colleagues in the surrounding municipalities

The Cannabis trial would oblige all coffeeshop owners in the same municipality with tolerated coffeeshops to participate in the experiment.

Nol says that seems sensible to him because if in Haarlem, for example, he told me, nine coffeeshops might decide to participate while the other seven will see this and choose not to. The nine coffeeshops taking part in the trail would soon lose their business and go bankrupt.

“The remaining seven coffeeshops might, after all, continue to offer their complete menu, with many types of weed, foreign hash and edibles, all products that will no longer be permitted to be sold in Justice Minister Grapperhaus’ experiment. The nine coffeeshops bound to the experiment will have to put their staff on the streets within six months and apply for bankruptcy,” warns van Schaik.

“In addition, even if all coffeeshops in one municipality have to participate, the neighbouring municipalities with ‘free’ coffeeshops, where all cannabis products are still available for sale, it will take away a considerable number of the customers at the Cannabis Trial coffeeshops, which will make their turnover plummet.

“This understandably made the enthusiasm to participate in the experiment among coffeeshop entrepreneurs disappear.”

“Mayor Depla, of the Dutch city of Breda, is in favour of the free choice to participate in the Cannabis trial, this shows this official, who pretends to be very committed to the coffeeshop policy, still does not understand anything about it.”

“In The Netherlands, we have 101 municipalities with coffeesshops, the other 270 municipalities have street dealers to supply the demand.

Cannabis trials can cause inconvenience due to the waterbed effect

Nol warns if Mayor Depla gets his way most cannabis consumers will go to the coffeeshops where they can get their hash, a huge variety of weed and edibles. The result is that the ‘free’ coffeeshops in the same municipality or the coffeeshops in nearby municipalities will have to serve many more visitors than normal.

“This could lead to nuisance around these coffeeshops. There will be lines of people waiting for these coffeeshops, and parking around these coffeeshops will then be made almost impossible for local residents. This could justify intervention by the government ”

In Maastricht where they introduced a weed pass so only Dutch residents could purchase cannabis, it led to an increase in drug tourism in neighbouring provinces such as Limburg that do not implement the weed pass policy.

Making prices in cannabis trial conform to illegal cannabis prices is deadly

The Knottnerus committee advised making the prices of the cannabis weed market conform, in other words, just as expensive as the current prices in the coffeeshops.

Nol believes the Knottnerus committee does not understand how these prices have been achieved and how this price relates to the legally grown cannabis available in the pharmacy.

“The price for one gram of legally produced cannabis,produced according to a strict protocol and with staff in white coats and rubber gloves, is € 5.80.

“For the better types of weed in the coffeeshops, that is the buying price per gram, and that must then be doubled, the tax authorities will not accept a lower margin.

“How did it evolve into the reality that an illegal version is cheaper than the legal version? Illegal alcohol and cigarettes are cheaper than the legal version, and that is ‘normal’ otherwise we would just keep buying them in the store.

“The price of cannabis for coffeeshops has been boosted since the introduction of the euro, by the increasing repression, so that nowadays cannabis is grown by people who dare to take the risk of being caught and prosecuted.

“The greater the risk of being caught, the higher the sanctions imposed by convictions, means the price of illegal cannabis has been increased.

Photo of Bedrocan herbal cannabis in plastic containers.

Bedrocan: medicinal cannabis legally produced in The Netherlands.

“In terms of costs, the illegal grower is cheaper than Bedrocan, the legal supplier of pharmacies. Bedrocan pays the electricity used, the payroll tax of the personnel and tax on turnover/profit plus other overhead costs.

“The illegal grower should therefore be able to supply his cannabis cheaper than Bedrocan, but the aforementioned risks keep the price ridiculously high. This has been caused by our government, which has eliminated home growers and thereby, unknowingly and unintentionally, has increased the crime surrounding the cultivation of cannabis to the current excesses.”

“If the ‘legal’ cannabis in the Cannabis trial coffeeshops is not significantly cheaper than the current market, nobody will come to these coffeeshops iif weed is too expensive, too little choice, no foreign hash and no cannabis edibles.”

After the experiment, back to the old situation?

Nol van Schaik says the real cannabis test will be for the designated cannabis coffeeshops and their operators who will be obliged to take part.

“All this effort is actually all for nothing, and this whole experiment useless, because even if the experiment were to be a resounding success, the intention is that the participating coffeeshops will have half a year to get back into doing business with illegal growers.

“The Dutch Government wants to experiment with legal production to eliminate illegal growers!I t should be clear that this does not invite the coffeeshop entrepreneurs to participate, even if you do great in the experiment, against all odds, it has been all for ‘the cat’s cunt’, as we say in the Netherlands.

“Disabling the criminal growers for coffeeshops was pointless as well, because they have to take up growing again to supply cannabis, illegally to the re-criminalized back door.

The consequences for society

The experiment, with the banning of hash and edibles, will cause a loss for the tax collector and therefore also the Dutch citizens, because the street dealers makes profits, yet do not pay any taxes.

“The coffeeshops jointly contribute around € 440,000,000 in taxes each year. If an important part of their trade is banned from these companies, it will be left in the hands of the illegal street trade.

“The street trade must be fought by the police, that costs the taxpayers’ money. Illegal growers weigh heavily on the jammed judicial system, which costs us money. A lose-lose situation, in American terms.

Looking for a solution?

In the Netherlands, coffeeshops pay taxes on the sale of the number of kilos that are sold, and these are specified in their administration.

Nol explained to me that if every coffeeshop owner is allowed to attract a number of growers to produce a certain amount of kilograms annually for them, with inspection by the government and the necessary authorities, little change is required, which has become clear after 42 years of experiments. The experience is there, the market is there, the demand is there, only the thing left is proper regulation.

Together with tolerated hash offices, with government supervision, as with the growers, a new cannabis and ee shop policy can be developed for all coffeeshops. This also takes the wind out of the sails of the illegal market , a win-win situation.

Nol concluded: “In short, the experiment is not meant to be a success anyway. It is starting to look more like a Kafkaian drama in four acts: disable illegal growers, enable legal growers, disable legal growers, re-enable illegal growers.

“I would rather not experiment anymore, legalize the cultivation and use of cannabis, or prohibit the cultivation and use of cannabis. If that is not possible, keep it at the tolerance policy, because that is gradually becoming easier to understand than the design of this senseless experiment, in which the participating coffeeshop becomes a defenseless punchball for the Dutch government.

“I say to the Dutch government, first put an end to the long-running tolerance experiment, it is pointless to start an experiment in this experiment now, without any prospect of progress,” said Nol van Schaik.

Nol van Schaik is a coffeeshop entrepreneur and test-human in the Gedoog Experiment (Tolerance Trial) since 1991.


Chris Bovey, writer and musician.

Chris Bovey is a businessman, writer, musician and practical joker. He lives in Devon with his partner, two children and cat.

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