It’s hard to name a country more famous for cannabis than the Netherlands. Millions of tourists visit Dutch coffeeshops every year, but most of them have no clue about the complicated and paradoxical legal status of the plant. Leafly’s Netherlands correspondent Derrick Bergman debunks five of the most common myths.
1. Cannabis is Legal
The only thing that’s really legal in the Netherlands is using cannabis — and only if you’re 18 or older. All the rest is technically illegal and only gedoogd, a word usually translated as “condoned” or “tolerated.” For instance, you won’t be prosecuted if you have less than of five grams of cannabis on you, but police are still allowed to confiscate your herb. These days it’s standard practice at most Dutch music festivals to frisk all visitors at the entrance. If any cannabis is found, you will be refused entrance unless you throw it away. In some cases people who’ve just bought cannabis in a coffeeshop are stopped by police and have it confiscated only minutes later.
The same crooked logic applies to home cultivation. If you grow no more than five plants, you will not be prosecuted — but if police discover your plants, they can (and usually will) take all of them. In 2011, authorities introduced a list of criteria that enabled law enforcement to prosecute of people as professional growers even if they have five plants or fewer. If you meet two or more criteria, which include using any sort of electric light, ventilation, or “selected seeds,” you’re in trouble. On top of that, if you live in a rented private house, like a lot of Dutch people, you will be evicted and put on a black list. In other words, home growing is far from legal in the Netherlands. Lots of people get away with it, but an increasing number run into serious trouble.
2. The Dutch Invented Indoor Growing
Although it’s true that Dutch pioneers such as Ben Dronkers and Wernard Bruining played pivotal roles in the development of indoor cannabis cultivation, they certainly did not invent the concept. It was a small group of American growers, mostly from California, who fled the United States in the early eighties and introduced indoor grows to the Netherlands. These people, including Old Ed Holloway and David Watson, a.k.a. “Sam the Skunkman,” had been forced to go indoors because of the large-scale DEA raids on outdoor growers that began around 1982, as then-President Ronald Reagan intensified the war on drugs. The expats came to Amsterdam, bringing their knowledge and seeds with them and starting a revolution that would transform the Dutch cannabis scene.
3. There’s a Coffeeshop in Every Dutch Town
A few sobering figures taken from the Intraval research institute, which monitors coffeeshops for the Dutch government, shows there are 403 cities and municipalities in the Netherlands — of which only 103 have coffeeshops. The most recent coffeeshop count in the Netherlands was 582, with about a third of them, 187, located in Amsterdam. Tourists who only visit Amsterdam can easily get the impression that Dutch cities have a coffeeshop on every corner, but this is far from the truth.
4. Most Dutch People Use Cannabis
Research by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has consistently shown that the Dutch use of cannabis is below the European average. The proportion of Dutch national residents, ages 15 to 64, who have consumed cannabis at least once in their life is 24.1 percent, the European average for the same group is 24.8 percent. In France, a country with a very repressive cannabis policy, the number is no less than 40.9 percent. And a recent poll found that 43 percent of American adults have tried cannabis at some point.
Although such statistics never tell the whole tale, it’s clear that a large majority of Dutch people does not, in fact, use cannabis. It’s nevertheless worth noting that the Dutch who don’t consume cannabis are quite understanding of their compatriots who do partake.
5. Consuming in Public is No Problem
This might have been true 20 or 30 years ago, but times have changed. If you smoke a joint on a terrace of a bar or restaurant, the staff will most likely ask you to put it out. Many cities, including Amsterdam, have introduced zones where you can be fined if you consume cannabis in public. Indeed, some local authorities have tried to turn entire cities into “no-cannabis zones,” but this turned out to be impossible because cannabis consumption is not illegal. (Fun fact: The official “No Cannabis” signs in some Amsterdam neighborhoods were stolen so often, local authorities eventually stopped putting up new ones.) If you want to be sure and safe, stick to consuming cannabis at coffeeshops or private residences.