Once a cannabis pioneer, the Netherlands still has not legalized marijuana

Amsterdam seems to be where the general public can hang out in the haze of its coffee shops, share joints, or snack on space cakes without worrying about the side effects of cannabis use. That is far from the truth.

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Though revolutionary when the country started 50 years ago, the Dutch cannabis model has been plagued with problems, not the least of which is that it isn't legal under EU law. 

A rise in organized crime has been caused by creating a black market for growing and distributing it. There have been calls for the cannabis system to be fixed, but nothing has been done so far.

Cannabis legalization is moving fast in Canada, as well as in 21 U.S. states.

Germany recently announced a plan to make the drug legal in the country. It will have to contend with strict EU laws and create an entirely new infrastructure, but if it succeeds, it could be a template for the rest of the continent.

The Netherlands decriminalized cannabis based on recommendations from a state drugs commission in the '70s. 

Coffee shops are allowed to sell up to 5 grams of marijuana to customers for consumption on-site. Amsterdam, which has a third of the nation's shops, has a law that flourished despite some restrictions. The move was supposed to create a safe space for young people to buy marijuana without interacting with street dealers who would also introduce them to harder substances. Stijn Hoorens is a senior research leader at RAND Europe.

The cannabis coffee shop system is not an official one.

Although European Union laws do not allow the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, it does leave penalties up to individual member states. The Dutch government won't prosecute coffee shops for selling it because it says it's a criminal offense. The shaky system attracted tourists and delivered 400 million euros in tax revenue annually. The Dutch call it the back door problem. Cannabis Coffee shops get supplies from the black market because cannabis is still illegal for public sale.

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Are you financing organized crime groups to grow cannabis?

Tom Blickman is a senior project officer at the Transnational Institute. Are you financing organized crime groups to grow cannabis? The failure to regulate the back door was a design mistake. It is a stable market for organized crime because the police don't enforce the law. As illegal cannabis production increased, the Netherlands became a transit hub for more dangerous drugs from the Americas. The situation in the Netherlands is not sustainable.

This has led to a political drive for change. Coffee shops have dwindled from around 400 in the 1990s to 160 today, but Amsterdam now bars new shops from opening. Non-residents are not allowed to purchase from shops in the south. The city council voted against banning tourists from coffee shops despite the request from the mayor. 

The biggest Dutch city wants to clean up its image of sex and cannabis tourism. 

Halsema supports the legalization of cannabis and believes it will reduce organized crime. The EU ban on growing or selling marijuana for public use has slowed the movement toward national cannabis legalization. 

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During the formation of the European Union's open borders, France and Germany argued that the policies of the Netherlands made it harder to enforce their own drug laws. 

Germany is moving in its own direction. In October, the country, which is the largest economy in the European Union and shares a 360-mile border with the Netherlands, announced that it would fully legalize marijuana. 

The plan goes far beyond the Dutch model. It would allow possession of up to 30 grams (1 ounce) and personal cultivation of up to three plants at home, as well as the public sale of the plants in a dispensary or pharmacy. The Germans think the Dutch system is crazy. The EU will be scrutinizing Germany. The Country of Malta is the only place that has legalized cannabis for personal use, and there is no dispensary. After coming up against the EU laws, Luxembourg backtracked on its plans to be legalized. 

Germany has set a target of 2024 for full legalization. Germany's plan will be judged by the EU. We can not see how they would approve it. If Germany wanted to change European law, it would have to use the political capital from other nations. Germany is the biggest and most powerful country in the EU. Change is coming to the Netherlands. The government conducted a research experiment to see how legalization would fare.

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This year, an experiment will be launched that will decriminalize cultivating for public cannabis consumption.

To clean up the black market and associated crime, it will establish a closed, domestic cannabis supply chain with a number of pre-selected cannabis-growing businesses. 

The experiment was designed to protect public health and the safety of the youth and to improve public order. There are concerns about illegal private growers causing fires and floods. None of the growers who were chosen participated in the black market. A population of 1.5 million will be represented by the coffee shops of 10 Dutch municipalities. The results of this study will be compared with seven other towns.

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The fieldwork of the project will not start until at least 2023, and with four years to complete it, nothing will change until 2027. The chair of the Scientific Council for Government Cannabis Policy, who headed the experiment's design committee, says it's not a race.

I believe it is worth the time. It's hard to improve the process once you have legalized cannabis  

It would possibly be hard for the government to justify reverting to an entirely illegal system, so he thinks it will bring about some progress. If Germany succeeds in breaking through the EU red tape, the Dutch government could follow suit. I think that will have a big impact on Europe. The German government should do a similar experiment as the Netherlands because of the country's lack of cannabis infrastructure. The Dutch have decades of experience with the system. If the experiment succeeds, the Netherlands will again be in the lead.