Toleration policy regarding soft drugs and coffee shops

Soft drugs are less damaging to health than hard drugs. In the Netherlands, coffee shops are permitted to sell cannabis under certain strict conditions. A coffee shop is an establishment where cannabis may be sold but no alcoholic drinks may be sold or consumed. This is part of the Dutch policy of toleration.

Toleration policy regarding soft drugs

The Netherlands has a policy of toleration regarding soft drugs. This means that the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is a criminal offence but the Public Prosecution Service does not prosecute coffee shops for this offence.

Neither does the Public Prosecution Service prosecute members of the public for possession of small quantities of soft drugs. These quantities are defined as follows:

  • no more than 5 grams of cannabis (marijuana or hash);
  • no more than 5 cannabis plants.

Toleration criteria for coffee shops

The sale of cannabis (hash and marijuana) in coffee shops is tolerated, provided that coffee shops keep to the prescribed rules or ‘toleration criteria’. Coffee shops:

  • must not cause any nuisance;
  • are not permitted to sell hard drugs;
  • are not permitted to sell cannabis to minors;
  • are not permitted to advertise drugs;
  • are not permitted to sell large quantities (over 5 grams of cannabis) in a single transaction.

Municipalities determine whether to allow coffee shops to operate within their boundaries, and if so, how many. They may also impose additional rules.

Combating the nuisance and crime associated with coffee shops

The government is terminating the ‘open door’ policy that has been pursued by coffee shops. The objective is to combat the nuisance and crime associated with coffee shops and the sale of drugs. Coffee shops must become smaller and focus on the local market. This policy is also aimed at making Dutch coffee shops less attractive to drug users from abroad.

New rules on cannabis and coffee shops

To combat drug-related crime and nuisance, a new toleration rule was introduced on 1 January 2013: only 'residents of the Netherlands' are permitted to visit coffee shops and purchase cannabis there. A resident of the Netherlands is someone who lives in a Dutch municipality and is registered there.

Coffee shop owner responsible for checks

Coffee shop owners are required to check that all those admitted to the shop, and allowed to purchase cannabis there, are residents of the Netherlands aged 18 years or older. They should check these facts, for instance, by asking the person to produce a valid identity document or residence permit, in combination with an extract from the municipal population register.

Growing cannabis plants for personal consumption

It is against the law to grow marijuana and cannabis plants. In cases where no more than 5 plants are grown for personal consumption, the police will generally only seize the plants. If more than 5 plants are found, the police may prosecute.

In combating cannabis growing, the police collaborate with organisations including housing associations, the Tax and Customs Administration, and energy companies. Tenants found to be growing cannabis may be evicted. The energy company will impose an additional retrospective assessment on those who illegally tap electricity.