Uruguay and over 20 American states are creating a shockwave throughout global cannabis politics. An increasing amount of countries are prepared to review their cannabis policies or even modify them. Meanwhile, the country that has long been renowned for their once revolutionary and liberal cannabis politics, The Netherland, is moving back in time, ironically under the rule of a liberal government.
In 2010, the Dutch Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten and a coalition of city mayors from the Limburg and North Brabant provinces proposed the weed pass as a measure to reduce drug tourism, and the troubles associated with it, in the country's border regions. Coffeeshop owners managed to get the case in front of the European Court, but the EU dismissed it.
Directly after the weed pass law was implemented, the side effects - long expected by those in the cannabis industry - began kicking in. Tourists forbidden to buy cannabis (not to be confused with cannabis seeds) in the safe environment of a coffeeshop, and citizens refusing the registration needed to get a weed pass, were directed straight into the willing arms of criminal street dealers, who - unlike the coffeeshops - sell a lot more than just cannabis. Ironically, while coffeeshop owners and the government are still arguing about the weed pass, the pass itself has been scrapped. It was declared a failure in November 2012 after drug-related crimes rose dramatically in the southern regions. Unfortunately, foreigners are still not allowed into the southern coffeeshops.
While the government continues to introduce new measures to slowly exterminate the Dutch cannabis industry, and coffeeshop owners are still fighting against Opstelten’s absurd initiatives, which are costing a lot of tax money, there are also positive stories to tell. Since it is increasingly clear that the new cannabis policy of the Dutch government is not working, more and more local councils are taking matters into their own hands.
One example is Utrecht, where alderman Victor Everhardt is one of the driving forces behind an experiment to decriminalize the use of cannabis with non-commercial social clubs. Opstelten is strongly opposed, but Everhardt has been continuing the preparations for some time now. On Sept. 10, he released a progress letter detailing concrete plans. Everhardt is by far not alone in his plans. More cities want to experiment with regulated cannabis cultivation to provide coffeeshops with legal weed, including Arnhem, Nijmegen, Eindhoven, Den Haag, Terneuzen, Tilburg and Amsterdam. All these localities have submitted their plans to Ivo Opstelten, but so far he has not permitted any city to start the experiment.
On Nov. 5, Haarlem handed out the first quality scores to eight coffeeshops in the city; the other eight Haarlem shops still need to be tested and will be issued their marks once they've been approved. This was a special moment because the coffeeshop policies have been heavily besieged for a number of years now. The quality assessment test was brought about by the collaborative efforts of the municipality of Haarlem, various auxiliary services, and such organizations as Stichting Drugsbeleid (Drugs Policy Foundation), the municipal Health Services and the We Smoke cannabis consumer association. It'a to be hoped that more coffeeshops throughout the country will follow soon.
The last word has not yet been written about the Dutch situation. But at least the coffeeshops in many cities, such as Amsterdam, remain open.