Background and design of the controlled cannabis supply chain experiment
The experiment is intended to show whether changes can be made to the current policy of toleration for cannabis and hashish. At present, it is illegal to produce cannabis or supply it to coffeeshops, but the government tolerates its sale. Legislation to allow the experiment came into effect on 1 July 2020. The preparatory phase of the experiment is currently ongoing.
Background and aim of the experiment
There are 570 coffeeshops in the Netherlands, in 102 different municipalities. The government tolerates the sale of cannabis to consumers in these coffeeshops, but there is no toleration policy for the production of cannabis or for the supply of cannabis to coffeeshops. Both are illegal. Public opinion is increasingly urging the government to address the problems caused by the toleration policy. Considering this, the aim of the experiment is to examine whether and how it is possible for growers to legally supply quality-controlled cannabis or hashish to coffeeshops.
The policy of tolerating the sale of cannabis in coffeeshops was introduced in the 1970s to separate the markets for soft and hard drugs. But this separation also caused problems. Public opinion is increasingly urging the government to address the problems caused by the toleration policy. Mayors, in particular, state that the policy has caused problems in their municipalities, for example in relation to public order, public health and crime that undermines society.
That is why the former government’s coalition agreement promised to carry out a small-scale experiment. The current government’s coalition agreed to continue the experiment in the coming years and broaden its scope. This experiment will take place in ten Dutch municipalities. The municipality of Amsterdam is currently deciding with which part of the city they will participate in the experiment. With the establishment of the experiment, the government wants to determine whether it is possible to regulate a quality-controlled supply of cannabis to coffeeshops. It also wants to study the effects of a regulated supply chain on public order, crime-fighting and public health.
Aim of the experiment
The aim of the experiment is to analyze whether and how it is possible to decriminalise the supply of quality-controlled cannabis to coffeeshops by growers. Decriminalisation means changing the law so that it is no longer a criminal offence to grow, distribute or sell cannabis within the framework of the experiment. The government also wants to examine the effects of the experiment on drug related problems experienced by certain municipalities, for example in terms of crime and public health.
Design of the experiment
During the experiment, coffeeshops in the ten participating municipalities will sell regulated, quality-controlled cannabis. The cannabis will be produced by no more than ten growers, appointed after a tight selection process.
The selected growers and the coffeeshops will discuss what varieties of cannabis will be grown. For more information on the design of the experiment, see the booklet ‘Experiment with a controlled supply of cannabis to coffeeshops’.
The experiment will consist of five phases:
- a preparatory phase;
- a start-up phase;
- a transitional phase;
- the experimental phase (including evaluation); and
- a completion phase.
This will ensure a gradual transition from the current situation to the experiment. The government will decide on the future policy regarding coffeeshops and the cannabis supply chain. The new legislation prescribes the rules and procedure of the experiment will be into application during the entire experiment. For more information on the four phases see the booklet ‘Rules for the experiment with a controlled supply of cannabis to coffeeshops’.
The Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Act is the legal basis for the experiment. Under the Act, it is not a criminal offence to grow or sell cannabis within the framework of the experiment. The Act also determines the duration of the experiment. Find out more about the legislation underpinning the controlled supply chain experiment (Dutch).
Monitoring the experiment
Independent researchers will monitor developments throughout the experiment. They will start with surveys during the preparatory phase, to establish a clear picture of the current situation. The researchers were selected by the Research and Documentation Centre of the Ministry of Justice and Security (Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum; WODC). They will be supervised by the Guidance and Evaluation Committee (Begeleidings- en Evaluatiecommissie), which will also evaluate the experiment. After these initial surveys, the researchers will measure the progress of the selected criteria every year in order to analyze the effects of the experiment.
Ten municipalities have been selected to participate in the experiment. All coffeeshops that are located in these municipalities are obliged to take part.
Ten participating municipalities
Before the experiment began, Dutch municipalities were able to apply to take part. The rules and conditions for the experiment are laid down in the Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Decree.
In August 2019 the independent advisory committee chaired by Professor André Knottnerus made recommendations to the Minister for Medical Care and the Minister of Justice and Security on which municipalities should participate in the experiment. The ten municipalities are:
- Voorne aan Zee
The municipality of Amsterdam has to decide with which part of the city they will participate in the experiment. The expectation is that they will decide this is in the near future.
Existing and new rules
In the current coffeeshop policy, mayors determine together with the city council whether coffeeshops are allowed within their municipality. This authority remains unchanged during the experiment. Just like now, mayors are also authorized to draw up a number of extra rules for the coffeeshops in their municipality, for example location and opening hours. As a result, it remains possible for the mayor to set rules that suit the local situation. These rules must fit within the rules of the experiment.
Compliance with the rules of the experiment
Mayors can take measures – including closure – if a participating coffeeshop breaks the rules of the experiment.
The mayor and city council may also set additional detailed rules regarding the application of the resident criterion.
The border municipalities (Breda, Heerlen and Maastricht) must apply the residence criterion in their local policy. The residence criterion means that owners of coffeeshops in participating municipalities located on the border with Germany or Belgium may only admit people who live in the Netherlands. In addition, they may only sell cannabis to residents of the Netherlands.
Mayors and local council of other participating municipalities may extend this requirement to the coffeeshops in their municipalities.
Coffeeshops must take part
All of the coffeeshops in the participating municipalities must take part in the experiment. This means that the same rules will apply to all of them. It also means that customers can be sure that they are buying a quality-controlled product.
Conditions imposed on coffeeshops
All coffeeshop owners in participating municipalities must take part in the experiment. These coffeeshops must fulfil certain conditions. For example, they must keep records.
Participation is compulsory
All of the coffeeshops in the ten participating municipalities must take part in the experiment. This means that the same rules will apply to all of them. It also means that customers can be sure that they are buying a quality-controlled product.
All the provisional conditions that apply to coffee shops taking part in the experiment can be found in the Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Decree (Dutch).
Existing rules during the experiment
Most of the existing rules will continue to apply during the experiment. For example, coffeeshop owners are not allowed to:
- cause any public nuisance;
- sell no more than five grams per person per day;
- sell hard drugs or have them on the premises;
- serve or sell alcohol or have any alcohol on the premises.
The rules banning the admission of minors and the sale of soft drugs to minors will also continue to apply.
New rules for the experiment
During the experiment different rules will apply on the following issues:
- The current limit of 500 grammes will not apply during the experiment to participating municipalities. As a general rule, coffeeshops will be allowed to keep up to one week’s stock on the premises. Mayors may set local rules for how the weekly turnover is to be determined.
- Mayors and the locale council can also set additional local rules, for example specifying a lower limit on inventory.
- During the experiment coffeeshop owners must keep their stocks of cannabis on the premises. Cannabis that has been ordered but not delivered is not counted as inventory. So coffeeshop owners may have a pending order with a designated grower.
Supply of cannabis
Coffeeshops may buy, stock and sell cannabis from designated growers only.
Coffeeshops must operate a track-and-trace system. This is required to maintain a controlled supply chain from grower to coffeeshop to customer. Owners will therefore have to keep records of the following:
- the varieties and quantity of cannabis that they received from which grower and on what date;
- which carrier delivered the cannabis;
- the quantity they have in stock;
- which varieties of cannabis and how much was sold to customers and on what date.
Applying the residence criterion
The residence criterion means that coffeeshops in participating municipalities located on the border with Germany or Belgium may only admit people who live in the Netherlands. In addition, they may only sell cannabis to residents of the Netherlands.
Mayors and council of other participating municipalities may extend this requirement to the coffeeshops in their municipalities.
Preventing cannabis-related health problems
Customers of coffeeshops in participating municipalities must be able to get information on the use of cannabis and the associated risks. Sales staff must be trained to provide this information.
If a customer experiences problems due to cannabis use, the staff must be able to provide useful information and if necessary refer the customer to sources of care and assistance. So sales staff of coffeeshop must have the knowledge and skills
- to be able to provide customers with information about the use of hemp or hashish and the associated health risks, the method of use, prevention of addiction, and
- to be able to refer customers to information or care if there is a suspicion of problematic use.
Coffeeshops must also clearly display educational material for customers explaining the risks involved in cannabis use and problematic use.
4 FAQs about the controlled cannabis supply chain experiment
- What is the difference between cannabis, weed, hemp and hashish? (Dutch)
- Hemp or cannabis is the name of the plant. Weed, marijuana and hashish are different words for products made from this plant. These words are often used interchangeably. The Opium Act uses the terms ‘hemp’ and ‘cannabis’.
- Raw material for weed or marijuana
- Weed or marijuana is made from the dried buds and leaves of the cannabis plant.
- Raw material for hashish or hash
- Hashish comes from the resin produced by the buds of the cannabis plant. Pressing the resin produces a sticky brown slab, i.e. hashish.
- Weed and hash in legislation
- In the Opium Act the government uses the name of the plant: hemp or cannabis. The words ‘weed’ and ‘marijuana’ do not appear in the Opium Act.
- What will the experiment mean to me as a consumer? (Dutch)
- The main change for consumers is that during the experiment you will be able to buy quality-controlled weed. The participating coffeeshops will also sell different varieties of cannabis and hashish. In addition you will be able to get information and advice on cannabis.
- Quality control
- The quality of the cannabis sold in coffeeshops participating in the experiment will be tested. So for example you will know how much THC and CBD it contains. THC and CBD are the substances in the cannabis plant that produce the effects. The quantity of heavy metals and aflatoxins in the cannabis will also be tested. Aflatoxins are toxic substances (produced by certain fungi) that may occur in cannabis. The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) supervises the quality of the products produced and the packaging requirements.
- Varieties of cannabis
- During the experiment you will be able to buy different varieties of cannabis and hashish in participating coffeeshops. The government will not set rules about the varieties of cannabis and hashish that are sold.
- Compulsory information in coffeeshops
- The government wants coffeeshops to be able to inform their customers properly about the use of cannabis and the associated risks. So coffeeshops must display educational material about cannabis use.
- You can also ask coffeeshop staff for advice on cannabis use and the associated risks. It is compulsory for participating coffeeshops to train their staff to provide advice of this kind.
- What products can coffeeshops offer during the experiment? (Dutch)
- During the experiment coffee shops will only be able to sell cannabis and other products supplied by designated growers, such as hashish, pre-rolled joints or space cake. Growers will reach agreements with coffee shops on which products they supply. No more than ten growers will be granted a licence to grow cannabis during the experiment.
- Agreement between growers and coffee shops
- The growers will reach agreements with participating coffeeshops to produce the cannabis products – for example, weed or hashish – which the coffeeshops can sell. In this way the growers can ensure that the coffeeshops and their customers get the products they want. Coffeeshops will be allowed to sell other products besides cannabis.
- Joints may only be pre-rolled by growers
- Participating coffeeshops may only sell pre-rolled joints that have been packaged by the grower and delivered in the prescribed packaging. Coffeeshops are no longer allowed to roll joints themselves.
- Edibles prepared by growers
- Coffeeshops are only allowed to sell edibles (edible cannabis products such as space cake) that are made of pure/raw cannabis. This is not a change from the current situation. But during the experiment these edibles must be prepared and packaged by the growers. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell edibles made from cannabis extracts.
- What legislation is the legal basis for the experiment? (Dutch)
New legislation has been introduced to make it possible to supply cannabis to coffeeshops legally:
- Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Decree;
- Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Order;
- Application Period and Minimum Production Quantity (Establishment) Order;
- Designation of Supervisory Authorities and Granting of Mandates Order;
- Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment (Entry into Force) Order
- Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Act (Dutch).
The Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Act makes the experiment possible and provides that it is not a criminal offence to grow or sell cannabis within the framework of the experiment. The Act also determines how long the experiment will last.
The Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Decree lays down more detailed rules for the experiment, such as the conditions to be met by municipalities, coffeeshops and cannabis growers. The Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Order contains rules on packaging and on cannabis quality. Both the Decree and the Order will enter into force at the same time as the Act.