Compile a list of the world’s weed hotspots and the Netherlands will inevitably take the top spot. It’s fair to say the country - and more specifically its capital, Amsterdam - has a big reputation among smokers from Taiwan to Timbuktu.
The status is well earned too; when it comes to growing, you’ll find better genetics here than you would anywhere else on the planet. The Dutch really do know their stuff.
More than this, though, Holland’s authorities have long taken a liberal stance on light recreational drug use – unlike most other countries, it’s happy to let its citizens and visitors have a bit of fun.
Well…for the most part.
On November 11 2014, a majority in the Senate of the Dutch Parliament voted in favour of an amendment to the existing Opium Act. Dubbed the Growshopwet, or in English the ‘Growshop Act’, its purpose is to make it easier for the government to prosecute people who facilitate the professional cultivation of cannabis. The bill – which is about as clear as mud - came into force on March 1 2015, and it’s caused a healthy mix of debate and confusion.
One question many people are asking is ‘why?’ The government loosely says the idea is to stop the Netherlands’ own drug tolerance being exploited by illegal parties and dealers elsewhere, which, on paper, is completely understandable. Not everyone thinks it’s quite so straightforward, though.
To be fair, there’s every reason to question the move. In order to push the bill through, Mark Rutte’s government used some rather dodgy stats. It claimed, for example, that 80 per cent of all weed grown in the country is done so on a large, professional scale and then shipped off to criminal markets in Europe and on other continents. Questionable at best.
As most critics will tell you, it’s actually more likely to be pressure from other countries that pushed the conservative new government into making the change; nations like France and Germany have long been on the Netherlands’ back, complaining about the amount of cannabis crossing their borders. This is the government’s attempt to stem the export supply right from its root – nip it in the bud, if you like. Or at least to make it appear to the Netherlands’ EU peers as though it’s taking some action anyway.
Who does it affect?
In theory, the bill’s passing means the police will be out to get anyone they think are inciting or facilitating professional and large-scale cannabis cultivation. It doesn’t just mean the person doing the growing – it includes the people selling the seeds, the lights, the pots, and the nutrients too. Basically anything used as part of the production process.
In a nutshell, it’s the growshops that have most reason to worry, but the bill’s wording confuses things a little. A seller is only guilty if they “know or have serious grounds to suspect” that the products they pass on are intended for committing the punishable offence of large-scale, professional growing. Too much room for interpretation if you ask us.
If it can be proven that the new law has been broken, the offender can be sentenced to a maximum of three years’ prison time, or receive a fine of up to €81,000.
The coffeeshops are safe
So how does this affect the Netherlands’ world-famous coffeeshops? Put simply, it doesn’t. They aren’t once mentioned in the bill’s text, meaning they’re safe – from this act at least. The government knows how big a draw they are for tourists, especially in Amsterdam; it’d be mad to start outlawing them.
Aside from this, the popular shops aren’t actually growing anything – they’re selling the final product. This new law really isn’t targeting the café owners.
The fact that so many coffeeshops have closed in recent months has caused a fair bit of confusion, but this isn’t actually linked to the Growshop Act’s introduction in any way. In order to continue operating, coffeshops now have to abide by a growing collection of rules and regulations, one of which forces all shops within 250 metres of a primary or secondary school to close. Once again, this is a pretty fair rule.
So where are we now?
The laws have understandably created a fair bit of concern in the Netherlands; people across the industry are still wondering what’s going on and where they stand. The good news is that unless they’re part of the growing process, most smokers are unaffected by the change.
We’re happy to say, then, that despite things being a little up in the air at present, Amsterdam remains the best place in the world to light up. Yes, the industry will need to keep its eyes and ears open while this new law starts to show itself properly, but it’s going to take a lot more than a bit of regulation-pushing from governmental suits to keep the weed world down.