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 coffee shops, but the government tolerates its sale. Legislation to allow the experiment entered into force on 1 July 2020. The preparatory phase of the experiment is currently under way.

Background and aim of the experiment

There are 570 coffee shops in the Netherlands, in 102 different municipalities. The government tolerates the sale of cannabis to consumers in these coffee shops, but there is no toleration policy for the production of cannabis or for the supply of cannabis to coffee shops. Both are illegal. Public opinion is increasingly urging the government to address the problems caused by the toleration policy. So the experiment will examine whether and how it is possible for growers to legally supply quality-controlled cannabis or hashish to coffee shops. 

Background

The policy of tolerating the sale of cannabis in coffee shops 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, say 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 present government’s coalition agreement promised to carry out a small-scale experiment. This experiment will take place in ten municipalities. The government wants to find out whether it is possible to regulate a quality-controlled supply of cannabis to coffee shops. It also wants to study the effects of a regulated supply chain on public order and public health.

Aim of the experiment

The aim of the experiment is to see whether and how it is possible to decriminalise the supply of quality-controlled cannabis to coffee shops 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 the problems experienced by certain municipalities, for example in terms of crime and public health.

Design of the experiment

During the experiment, coffee shops in the ten participating municipalities will sell regulated, quality-controlled cannabis. The cannabis will be produced by no more than ten growers, chosen by means of a selection procedure.

The selected growers and the coffee shops 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 coffee shops’.

Four phases

The experiment will consist of four phases:

  1. a preparatory phase;
  2. a transitional phase;
  3. the experimental phase (including evaluation); and
  4. a completion phase.

This will ensure a gradual transition from the current situation to the experiment and back again. The new legislation on the experiment will apply throughout. For more information on the four phases see the booklet ‘Rules for the experiment with a controlled supply of cannabis to coffee shops’.

New legislation

The Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment Act is the 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 states how long the experiment will last. 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.

Participating municipalities

Ten municipalities have been selected to participate in the experiment. All the coffee shops in these municipalities must 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:

  • Almere
  • Arnhem
  • Breda
  • Groningen
  • Heerlen
  • Hellevoetsluis
  • Maastricht
  • Nijmegen
  • Tilburg
  • Zaanstad

Existing and new rules

During the experiment mayors will decide whether to allow coffee shops in their municipalities and will determine which shops are to be allowed. Mayors will still be able to set rules for these coffee shops, for example on location and opening times.

Compliance with the rules of the experiment

Mayors can take measures – including closure – if a participating coffee shop breaks the rules of the experiment.  

Residence criterion

The residence criterion means that owners of coffee shops 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.

Coffee shops must take part

All of the coffee shops 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 coffee shops

All coffee shop owners in participating municipalities must take part in the experiment. These coffee shops must fulfil certain conditions. For example, they must keep records.

Participation is compulsory

All of the coffee shops 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, coffee shop owners are not allowed to:

  • advertise;
  • cause any public nuisance;
  • sell large quantities in a single transaction;
  • 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:

Inventory

  • The current limit of 500 grammes will not apply during the experiment. As a general rule, coffee shops 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 can also set additional local rules, for example specifying a lower limit on inventory.
  • During the experiment coffee shop owners must keep their stocks of cannabis on the premises. Cannabis that has been ordered but not delivered is not counted as inventory. So coffee shop owners may have a pending order with a designated grower.

Supply of cannabis

Coffee shops may buy, stock and sell cannabis from designated growers only.

Keeping records

Coffee shops must operate a track-and-trace system. This is required to maintain a controlled supply chain from grower to coffee shop 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 coffee shops 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 of other participating municipalities may extend this requirement to the coffee shops in their municipalities.

Preventing cannabis-related health problems

Customers of coffee shops 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 must:

  • be aware of the risks of cannabis use (e.g. effects and health risks);
  • be able to identify problematic cannabis use;
  • be able to provide advice and information material to customers;
  • know what to do in the case of problematic behaviour by customers due to cannabis use.

Coffee shops 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 coffee shops 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 coffee shops 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.
  • Varieties of cannabis
  • During the experiment you will be able to buy different varieties of cannabis and hashish in participating coffee shops. The government will not set rules about the varieties of cannabis and hashish that are sold.
  • Compulsory information in coffee shops
  • The government wants coffee shops to be able to inform their customers properly about the use of cannabis and the associated risks. So coffee shops must display educational material about cannabis use.
  • You can also ask coffee shop staff for advice on cannabis use and the associated risks. It is compulsory for participating coffee shops to train their staff to provide advice of this kind.
  • What products can coffee shops 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 coffee shops to produce the cannabis products – for example, weed or hashish – which the coffee shops can sell. In this way the growers can ensure that the coffee shops and their customers get the products they want.  Coffee shops will be allowed to sell other products besides cannabis.
  • Joints may only be pre-rolled by growers
  • Participating coffee shops may only sell pre-rolled joints that have been packaged by the grower and delivered in the prescribed packaging. Coffee shops are no longer allowed to roll joints themselves.
  • Edibles prepared by growers
  • Coffee shops 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. Coffee shops are not allowed to sell edibles made from cannabis extracts.
  • What legislation is the basis for the experiment? (Dutch)

New legislation has been introduced to make it possible to supply cannabis to coffee shops 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, coffee shops 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.