Twenty-three local mayors have drawn up plans to authorise and regulate the production of cannabis in the Netherlands.
The manifesto aims to resolve a long-standing anomaly in Dutch drugs policy. Small amounts of soft drugs can be purchased by individuals in licensed coffeeshops, but the wholesale trade remains illegal and criminals run the supply chain.
27 January 2014
Written by Gordon Darroch
Municipal politicians say the current approach is “hamfisted” and are stepping up pressure on the justice department to allow them to license legal suppliers. Some councils have even contemplated cultivating cannabis themselves.
They say the current system is unworkable, dangerous and a burden on the criminal justice system. A quarter of all urban fires in the Netherlands are estimated to be “hemp related”.
Around 77 per cent of prosecutions are drugs-related, limiting the prosecution service’s capacity to pursue other offences. And criminal gangs steal an estimated €180 million worth of electricity from the power networks to supply illegal hemp farms.
Paul Depla, mayor of the Limburg town of Heerlen, told TV current affairs show Brandpunt: “It is scandalous that we as authorities are giving criminal networks total freedom and putting citizens in danger. It really has to stop.”
The scheme has been backed by the mayors of major cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Eindhoven.
But it is likely to come up against stiff opposition from justice minister Ivo Opstelten, who has pursued a more hardline policy in the last three years.
Tourists are now officially banned from visiting coffeeshops – though their presence is tolerated in most major towns and cities, including Amsterdam – and the number of coffeeshops has steadily been reduced in recent years.
The alternative manifesto is due to be presented in Utrecht on Friday.
“The nationwide introduction of certified and regulated weed production is the solution that addresses the health of users and community safety and tackles organised crime,” claims the document.
It goes on to say the current regime is a “unacceptable” and “undermines the fabric of Dutch society”.
Pressure is growing on the cabinet to revisit its drug policy. Last week Labour MP Marith Rebel became the first politician in the coalition parties to speak out against Opstelten when she called for him to “take the municipalities’ accounts seriously”.
Opstelten has argued that international treaties would block any attempt to legalise the cultivation of recreational drugs.
But law professor Jan Brouwer, of Groningen University, told Brandpunt that there was a get-out clause: “It is an offence but you’re not obliged to prosecute. We have exploited this in the sale at the front door and could do it for cultivation as well.”
Other restrictions have been introduced by the current government to force coffeeshops near schools to shut down or move and ban them from selling cannabis with a high THC content.
In 2012 an attempt to turn coffeeshops into private clubs where members would have to put their names register was abandoned when local mayors complained it had led directly to a rise in street dealing.