Years of failed policy in the Netherlands has left their cannabis industry crippled. Particularly when it comes to recreational weed. Amsterdam – and other Dutch cities – has a history of legal-ish recreational cannabis distribution since the 70s yet the current situation is a mess.

Bill Griffin, 23 September, 2018

New York – formerly “New Amsterdam” – is going to easily wrestle the crown of the most exciting cannabis friendly destination, which floundering Amsterdam has already lost to Barcelona.

Cannabis coffeeshops – not a model to emulate

Most people – wrongly – assume that cannabis is fully legal in Holland. They have an image of stoned Dutch people with a “laissez-faire” attitude towards drugs and creative sex acts. It seems this stereotype which has been portrayed since the 60s has motivated their government to steer policy away from actually owning the cannabis industry and instead hobbling it at every opportunity. Dutch PM Mark Rutte describes cannabis as “garbage” and “shit.” It seems he would rather it just go away.

Those in power in NL see cannabis as an embarrassment. Actually, they should see their policy towards cannabis as the embarrassment. How did they let a multi billion euro industry – that they should be leading the world in – slip away?

Coffeeshops are the perfect example of how royally they have screwed things up. On closer inspection it is almost farcical.

Let’s start from the moment you pass through the front door of a typical Dutch cannabis coffeeshop.

As a tourist walks into a coffeeshop for their first time and smells the pungent aroma of cannabis they are taken aback by the blatant display of public cannabis consumption. It’s true – cannabis consumption is “tolerated” in licensed premises. They make their way timidly to the “menu” and are presented with a list of cannabis flowers and hash. Other concentrates are deemed “hard drugs” so are not for sale in coffeeshops. Incidentally, concentrates appear to be the future of cannabis consumption – DOH!

They make their order only to discover the 5 gram limit. Compared to California or Colorado this 5 gram limit is laughable. It was introduced decades ago in an attempt to curb traffic issues created by foreigners driving in from neighbouring countries to purchase their pot. Before that, you could purchase 30 grams (just over an ounce) no problem. The result actually created far worse traffic issues as to return home with 30 grams they would now have to drive between different coffeeshops buying 5 grams at a time – thus increasing their traffic problem sixfold.

Behind the counter, the coffeeshop is “tolerated” to hold up to 500 grams of cannabis (around a pound) on the premises. This is where things start to get silly. A licensed coffeeshop can sell these small amounts but they are not legally allowed to buy it. As far as the Dutch authorities are concerned this 500 grams magically appears at the back door. As one coffeeshop owner put it to me “We run out and open the back door and poof as if by magic there appears 500 grams – thank you very much!”.

It’s nice to believe in magic, but it’s not sorcery supplying the cannabis that tourists and locals are buying through a coffeeshop. 

It’s an 100% tax-free-black-market which in many cases is run by criminal gangs. It’s criminal, because the cultivation of cannabis for commercial purposes over 5 plants without a license is a criminal offense. They don’t give out licenses to anyone growing for the recreational market.

Even home growers sticking to 5 plants for personal consumption can fall foul of the law with people having their medicine and growing equipment confiscated or even being evicted from their rental.

Busting peaceful cannabis growers is easy pickings for police and helps to boost crime statistics and arrest figures – justifying investment in their crime fighting equipment. Equipment which includes sophisticated drones with heat sensitive cameras. All to bust someone growing what they believe is under the “legal” limit for personal grows. It’s not legal, it’s “tolerated”. If your grow room has more than 3 items from a list of growing equipment (lights, extraction, ballast, fans, irrigation system etc) you are deemed a professional grower. Any grower knows – if you want to produce cannabis worth consuming indoors – you need way more than 3 pieces of equipment.

The result is, that small baggy of weed you buy from an Amsterdam coffeeshop has zero accountability. It may not even be the strain that is advertised. The budtender could not tell you how or where it was grown – they simply don’t know. Every budtender I have spoken to – off the record – tells me the horrors of the low quality weed that they sometimes have to shift.

It’s not the fault of the coffeeshop – the fact they have stayed afloat all these years in choppy legal waters is admirable and they should be celebrated for their dexterous entrepreneurial skills, not persecuted, as in the sorry case of Dutch businessman Johan van Laarhoven.  

Ultimately, it’s the consumer that suffers. Years of ill informed policy has created a tangled web that’s going to be extremely difficult to unravel.

New York looking to legalize for recreational use

Meanwhile in New Amsterdam – where they are trading in high flying cannabis stocks on Wall Street – they are discussing the full legalization of cannabis for recreational use.

According to NBC New York authorities have already relaxed police policy towards cannabis. “Pot is still illegal in New York City, but smoking it in public likely won’t land you in handcuffs anymore.”

Leafy highlights how Cynthia Nixon has shaken things up in the city that never sleeps.

““I am Cynthia Nixon,” she said, taking the microphone to raucous cheers, “and I am the cannabis candidate for New York governor.”

That’s something her opponent, two-term Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has never said. It is a phrase that has likely never crossed the lips of any serious candidate for governor in the 230-year history of the Empire State.

She may not beat Cuomo in the Democratic primary on Sept. 12, but Cynthia Nixon has changed New York.”

The New York Times has chronicalled the stages of change in stance towards cannabis in NYC bringing us up to today where Cuomo – who is up for reelection in November – is now running a series of listening sessions on marijuana policy.

“The purpose of these workshops is to gather advice on what the program could look like, and on regulatory and logistical hurdles, which could be reflected in the drafted legislation before the next session begins.”

It’s likely that legal cannabis for all adults is coming to New York very soon. It’s a given that when New York does legalize it will be implemented properly with full transparency on production and safeguards in place to protect consumers. As it the case in the nine US states that already have legal recreational cannabis. It’s also a given that once legal in New York cannabis will generate many $ millions in tax revenue.

In July, the New York State Health Department released a report saying the positive effects of a “regulated marijuana market” outweigh the negatives.

New Amsterdam is showing Old Amsterdam how to handle something that they’ve fumbled with for over 40 years.

Cannabis Capital Convention

The Cannabis Capital Convention is inviting key players from the cannabis industry to their conference which takes place on 26 September in Amsterdam.

The Cannabis Capital Convention is committed to growth in the cannabis market. Big names from the cannabis industry will meet to inform professional and private investors on the latest developments.

The convention has CEOs and spokespersons from companies including Canaccord, Bedrocan, C21 Investments, The Green Organic Dutchman, Prohibition Partners, Cannabis Industry Europe, Grön Chocolate, Phytonext and more.

Register now (limited tickets left)

For collaborations, contact the Cannabis Capital Convention team via

Photo credit : David Phan