This issue contains 4 sections.
Soft drugs, such as cannabis (hash and weed) and sedatives are less harmful to health and to society than hard drugs. Coffee shops may sell cannabis under strict conditions. That is part of the Dutch policy of toleration.
Schedules of hard and soft drugs
The Opium Act sets out the rules pertaining to drugs. Two schedules are appended to this Act. Schedule I lists the substances which entail unacceptable levels of risk (hard drugs), and schedule II other drugs (soft drugs).
The sale of cannabis in coffee shops is tolerated in the Netherlands, on the condition that the coffee shops observe the toleration criteria. The most important of these are:
- no more than 5 grams of cannabis can be bought by any one person in one day;
- coffee shops must not cause any nuisance;
- they are not permitted to sell hard drugs;
- they are not permitted to sell cannabis to minors;
- they are not permitted to advertise drugs.
Municipalities themselves can determine how many coffee shops can operate within their boundaries. They may also impose additional rules.
Combatting nuisance and criminality
The aim of drugs policy is to limit damage to public health and combat nuisance and crime. The ‘open door’ policy currently pursued by coffee shops will come to an end. The objective is to combat the nuisance and crime associated with coffee shops and the trade in drugs. Coffee shops must become smaller and easier to control. Dutch drug policy needs to become less attractive to drug users from abroad. Coffee shops will be small, private clubs that focus on the local market.
In recent years the trade in drugs has grown in scale and has become more professional and commercial. In response to this, the approach to organised drug-related crime has been intensified.
In order to achieve government objectives, the rules on cannabis and coffee shops are being tightened up:
- only residents of the Netherlands aged 18 years or older will be eligible for membership;
- from now on cannabis with a THC content of 15% or more will be classified as a hard drug.
Responsibility lies with coffee shop proprietors
Coffee shop proprietors are required to ensure that everyone who enters their premises and everyone they sell cannabis to is a resident of the Netherlands aged 18 or older. They can do this by, for example, asking to see a driving licence, passport or residence permit, and an extract from the municipal personal records database (Gemeentelijke Basisadministratie).
Phased enforcement and measures tailored to local circumstances
The residence criterion came into effect for coffee shops in the provinces of Limburg, Noord-Brabant and Zeeland on 1 May 2012 and will take effect throughout the rest of the country on 1 January 2013. Municipalities can implement enforcement of the new rule gradually so as to align practice with local coffee-shop and security policy. Measures tailored to fit local circumstances must be approved by the local tripartite consultative body (municipal authorities, the police and the Public Prosecution Service).
Local authorities know best what measures will be most effective in their communities. They may wish to add other rules to the government’s coffee shop policy, for example, rules on opening hours, bans on outside seating, mandatory screening under the Public Administration (Probity Screening) Act (BIBOB) for coffee shops, mandatory courses to ensure that those affected are adequately informed, etc.
Local measures can also help make coffee shops less visible to school children. Municipalities can prescribe a minimum distance between coffee shops and schools.