Marijuana Across the Atlantic

As American cannabis business lawyers, we focus most of our attention on the evolution of marijuana laws here at home. However, it’s also important to look at the marijuana laws and trends overseas to examine best practices from other countries. Today we look at the Netherlands, one of the first countries to liberalize its marijuana laws. Just as a side-note, our very first cannabis client was a Netherlands company that grew marijuana and produced grow lights specifically for the marijuana industry. It wanted to know about the laws in the Western United States (Washington, Oregon, and California) for both marijuana and for grow lights, so we’re familiar with Dutch policies on marijuana.

The Netherlands is known for more than just windmills.
The Netherlands is known for more than just windmills.

For almost four decades now, the Netherlands has in many ways served as a sort of reference point for many who campaign for cannabis legalization here. What stands out about the Netherlands today is that “the world pioneer in pot liberalization, has recently taken a harder line toward marijuana.

The world-renowned “coffee shops” that sell cannabis in the Netherlands stem from the pragmatic approach towards marijuana that the Dutch adopted in the seventies. Rather than wasting time and money on unconditionally enforcing repressive marijuana laws (which the authorities openly acknowledged to be an inefficient means for combating the already widespread personal use of “mild drugs”), the Dutch government chose to allow retail sales of cannabis in small quantities (5 grams per person over 18 per day) to “reduce the demand for drugs, the supply of drugs and the risks to drug users, their immediate surroundings and society.” Possession is limited to five grams and personal cultivation may not exceed five plants.

The Netherlands’ pioneering measures have made Amsterdam the “Green El Dorado” and greatly boosted its tourism industry. But in the last few years, the Dutch have had second thoughts about their marijuana policies. The Dutch think those policies haven’t been as effective as expected and that foreign tourists have abused the system. On top of this, other European states with stricter marijuana laws (like Germany, Belgium and France) have chided the Netherlands for its pot liberalization because it allows those countries’ citizens easy access to cannabis.

In response, many cities in the Netherlands have implemented increasingly strict rules on coffee shop marijuana. Perhaps most importantly, in 2011, the Netherlands announced that “weed passes” for entrance into a coffee shop would be limited to only Dutch citizens over 18. However, because a number of Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, have refused to implement this tourist ban (for obvious monetary reasons), this directive hasn’t been effective.

The U.S. takeaway from the Netherlands should be that cannabis legalization is not a one way street and that we need to be ever mindful of policy backsliding. This is why our Canna Law attorneys so often discuss with our clients the need to do more than the law requires. If the Netherlands teaches us anything, it’s that best practices are key in this nascent marijuana industry and it is incumbent on all industry participants to help destroy the wrongful stigma surrounding marijuana. If industry players begin to play fast and loose, the fate of the industry in the U.S. will also be susceptible to back-sliding.


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