Famous for its loose policy on the use of marijuana, the Netherlands just took another step toward making it easier to get the plant. On Tuesday, the Dutch lower house of parliament voted in support of a bill to decriminalize cannabis cultivation.
After much public and political debate, the lower house approved the marijuana cultivation bill by a narrow 77 to 72 vote. D66 party member Vera Bergkamp, who introduced the new legislation, said the measure is "an important step" towards a safer marijuana product and reduction of criminal activity.
"One of my main motivations is to reduce as much as possible the risks to public health by regulating the cultivation can impose requirements on the production and hence on the quality," Bergkamp said, as cited by United Press International. "Another important point is that we achieve the cultivation [for] coffee shops … and thus remove trade for organized crime."
If the bill becomes law, it will make the marijuana industry less opaque and remove many gray areas of current cannabis legislation. The weed bill will allow the establishment of rules to monitor and regulate the marijuana supply chain as well as make it cheaper, safer, and easier for coffee shops to operate.
"It would be a more transparent system," noted August de Loor with the Bond Van Cannabis Detaillisten union representing coffee shop owners, as reported by the Telegraph. "The coffee shop owner would be as normal as the owner of a pub."
Even though the bill makes sense to supporters of expanding marijuana legalization in the Netherlands, BBC News reports that the legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate. Prime Minister Mark Rutte is also critical of the new measure.
While marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, licensed "coffee shops" have been selling marijuana to customers for over 40 years. Inside the shops, a customer can choose from a variety of marijuana strains listed on a "weed menu," commonly printed in English. Joints, conveniently pre-rolled, are also offered. Alcohol is not available, but patrons can purchase soft drinks, coffee, and food.
With current marijuana law filled with ambiguity, law enforcement officials in much of the country have chosen to look the other way and tolerate the unlawful activity rather than prosecute the shops who sell weed. Generally speaking, shops storing less than 500 grams of cannabis and anyone possessing less than 5 grams are left alone. Individuals who cultivate less than five cannabis plants are typically not prosecuted, either.
One part of current Netherlands' marijuana law is quite clear, though. Coffee shops are prohibited from buying cannabis for resale, and growing weed to specifically supply the shops is also illegal. Any retail shops needing a supply of weed are forced to either secretly grow their own stock or source it through third party criminal networks.
The Dutch Ministry of Justice actively pursues and prosecutes large-scale marijuana dealers and growers, as well as international distributors. Just in 2015, Dutch authorities closed nearly 6,000 cannabis farms.
Annoyed by the multiple problems caused by people patronizing marijuana coffee shops, many Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, have passed ordinances putting additional restrictions on businesses selling weed. Local efforts to keep shops from opening near schools, enforcing 18-plus age limits, and cracking down on drug tourism have forced many coffee shops to permanently close. In the 1990s, there were over 350 shops in Amsterdam alone, yet today that number has dropped to 175.
By establishing a legal supply chain for marijuana, the Dutch government stands to rake in 300 million euros a year, according to Bergkamp's estimates. The additional revenue will come from corporate taxes levied on shop owners and growers as well as savings achieved from a drop in costs in the enforcement of current marijuana laws.
The marijuana legalization expansion bill in the Netherlands will be debated in the Senate sometime after March 15. While a handful of states in the U.S. have laws in place fully legalizing cannabis, the Dutch government will likely not follow suit anytime soon.
[Featured Image by Michel Porro/Getty Images]