The Netherlands is laying the groundwork to become the first country in Europe to allow commercial production of adult-use marijuana – although initially the program would be considered an experiment.
Under the Dutch plan, a limited number of companies would be allowed to legally grow marijuana to supply coffee shops in the country that would, in turn, sell the products to consumers.
While Dutch authorities tolerate the sale of recreational cannabis in such shops under certain conditions, cultivation and wholesale for that market remains completely illegal.
The government is looking to address the contradiction with the closed cannabis supply-chain experiment, or wietexperiment (weed experiment).
Kaj Hollemans, a drug policy consultant based in the Netherlands, told Marijuana Business Daily that “while applications for a license won’t be possible until early 2020, companies that are interested in obtaining one of the maximum 10 licenses should start getting ready as the application process won’t be simple.”
Among the requirements, Hollemans said, “companies must be based in the Netherlands. They must have a business plan. Furthermore, companies will not only be responsible for the cultivation but also for quality control, packaging, transport, etc.”
Other European countries also are moving forward with measures that could legalize recreational marijuana:
- Switzerland is preparing a limited pilot project.
- Luxembourg promised full legalization.
- Malta is debating rules for an adult-use market.
The Dutch lower chamber approved the experiment in January, but implementation is not imminent.
Authorities plan for the law to take effect in January 2020.
The experiment would allow a minimum of six and no more than 10 Dutch municipalities to participate.
Currently, the Netherlands has 573 coffee shops spread over the 103 municipalities that allow them.
Municipalities interested in participating in the experiment have until June 10 to formally express interest.
Once the law is in place, growers will still have many hoops to jump through before cultivation and sales commence.
- Interested potential growers will have to apply for a grow permit and be selected.
- After selection, a preparatory phase will take place to build up sufficient stock – a period that could take a year or more.
- After the preparation phase, a transition period of six weeks will be established to allow coffee shops to switch from illegal suppliers to legal providers.
The experiment will last four years, but it can be extended for another year and a half.
A committee will be responsible for an independent assessment at the end of the experiment.
Once the experiment is over, the country returns to the situation before the testing period began, which means all coffee shops would need to go back to their illegal sources of cannabis unless the law changes.
Among other requirements, all coffee shops in the municipalities that register must participate in the experiment and obtain their supply exclusively from regulated growers.
In other words, coffee shops will be required to stop sourcing product from illicit sources, which they have relied on for years.
The government wants to be able to fully evaluate the results of the experiment in the municipalities that adhere, preventing two enforcement regimes. Allowing coffee shops in a single municipality to source from both legal and illegal sources would taint the results.
This means it will be unlikely that large municipalities with many coffee shops, such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam, will join.
Municipalities bordering Belgium or Germany could apply to participate, but sales to nonresidents in those areas will remain prohibited.
Coffee shops would be able to have a maximum stock of a weekly turnover of cannabis, much larger than the current tolerance policy of just 500 grams.
Dutch head-start handicap
Some local analysts are concerned about the plan’s timing and reach.
Juriën Koster, a cannabis consultant based in the Netherlands, said the first harvests will not occur before the next general election, slated for March 2021.
“These delays indicate that this government is pushing the issue forward for the following government to decide how to continue,” he told Marijuana Business Daily.
Hollemans predicts that “during the experiment – which could last until 2027 – cannabis reform will be at a standstill in the Netherlands. In the meantime, other countries will be able to advance and Dutch knowledge and expertise will continue to emigrate – for instance, to Canada.”
He believes that, “as a political compromise, this experiment may be a good solution.
“But for the parties involved – like the coffee shops, the consumers and especially the Dutch agricultural and horticultural sector – it’s less than ideal, especially when you look at the missed opportunities for innovation or product development.
“This experiment is too little, too late,” he added.
Alfredo Pascual can be reached at email@example.com