Producing cannabis is still illegal here in the Netherlands. Yes, you read that correctly – it’s illegal! Police won’t prosecute you for smoking or selling a small amount of marijuana, because that is legal. And the idea is that this way marijuana won’t be sold alongside harder drugs like heroin and cocaine, but in the safe and regulated environment of the coffeeshop.
Michael Veiling owns the “420 coffeeshop” in Amsterdam. We met him here with Derek Burke, the spokesperson for the Dutch Cannabis Association. Michael Veiling: “I’m convinced that in another 10 years, people will look back say: How did we ever got that crazy idea to criminalize cannabis?”
But there are restrictions; you can only buy up to five grams and coffeeshop owners can only keep up to 500 grams in stock. They can’t sell alcohol or any other drugs and they can’t sell to anyone under the age of 18. In fact, marijuana use is significantly lower in The Netherlands. According to recent studies rougly 52% in the US have tried marijuana in their lifetime. Compare that to just 25% in the Netherlands. But not everyone is happy. Border towns like Maastricht have closed coffeeshops and are now barring tourists from buying cannabis, fearing that some visitors are only coming here to buy, so they can go back home to sell marijuana.
Advocates like Derek Burke say the answer is to fully regulate both the production and sale of cannabis, as in Colorado, to cut out criminal networks.
Derek Burke: “There is one hole in the policy (in the Netherlands), which is the production side. How do coffeeshop owners in Amsterdam get their cannabis? The regulators haven’t solved this issue. Now we can see in Colorado and also in Uruguay that it’s working. It’s not rocket science, you can have regulations for production of cannabis in a safe way.”
In practice, this means that coffeeshops in Amsterdam have their own connections to get their cannabis.
American John Sinclair has been advocating for legalization since 1964. He spent more than two years in prision for lighting two joints in the nineteen sixties. Defiant act made famous by John Lennon’s song – John Sinclair. He’s now a resident poet at the 420 coffeeshop, but even his Dutch friends are jealous Colorado’s new laws. For John Sinclair and many others, legal marijuana is inevitable. An idea whose time has finally come.
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