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Cannabis 101: A history of cannabis in the Netherlands

By Winston Peki
Special to Cannabis Daily Record

Amsterdam — The Netherlands and especially Amsterdam, for decades has had the reputation of being the ‘marijuana capitol’ of the world.

Still to this day, this reputation echoes in many remote parts of the world, leading to hordes of tourists flooding Amsterdam, curious to try some marijuana.

This reputation is based on ‘something’. And that something is the quite early and liberal official governmental stance of the Dutch government on:

  • Marijuana use;
  • Marijuana cultivation, and;
  • Marijuana trade/commerce.

Today we will look at how the Dutch governmental stance on these topics evolved over the years and if Amsterdam actually still deserves the title ‘marijuana capitol’ of the world…

Let’s get started.

The Early Days

Although marijuana-use in the early 1900s was almost non-existent in the Netherlands…

The government still made the use, cultivation and trade of marijuana illegal by the second Controlled Substances Act which went in effect in 1928.

That marijuana got listed on this Act was weird because its use was almost non-existent and thus there were no known issues with it, especially in the Netherlands.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Dutch government did something which defies common sense as you’ll learn later.

Looking back, the 2nd Dutch Controlled Substances Act was most probably inspired by the International Controlled Substances act set up in Geneva in 1925, which had marijuana listed on it.

After making marijuana illegal, it stayed illegal for 30 years.

But after those 30 years something started happening in the Netherlands…

The 60s and the 70s

In the 60s, the material welfare in the Netherlands reached a peak compared to earlier decades. With this increased welfare came a very prolific youth culture which now became independent because they had well-paying jobs and could study for longer periods of time with governmental support.

Partially, this youth culture was inspired by the hippie movement in the U.S., but it also had distinct characteristics.

One important characteristic of this newly developed youth culture was that hashish and marijuana were really popular. In the first years that this youth culture was active, the Dutch government enforced the law and mostly fined anyone who was using hashish or marijuana.

But there were many movements in Dutch society that would harshly criticize this official stance on marijuana by the Dutch government.

Slowly but surely, the Dutch government started caving in and started to see that this enforcement was actually useless, because the youth would keep using hashish and marijuana no matter what. The policy on marijuana started shifting from repression to risk control.

But it wasn’t until 1972 that the first coffeeshop opened up in Amsterdam, where you could shamelessly buy your own marijuana and which was a big step in officially accepting the trade/commerce of marijuana.

And it wasn’t until 1976 that the Dutch government officially made a difference between hashish and marijuana on the one side as ‘soft drugs’ and chemically manufactured substances like ecstasy and amphetamine on the other side as ‘hard drugs’.

This official separation of drugs was really the first official step of the Dutch government acknowledging that marijuana was a different beast than other ‘drugs’.

This is also the time where the Dutch government officially came out and declared that small-time house-dealers were free to sell marijuana, if they conformed to a few conditions like:

  • No selling of hard-drugs;
  • No advertisement, and;
  • No carrying LOADS of marijuana with them.

But all this time, the use, cultivation and trade of marijuana wasn’t legal mind you! It was just being condoned and wasn’t prioritized by law enforcement agencies for prosecution. Marijuana was being ‘condoned’, but not legal, as it was still on the Controlled Substances Act as ‘soft drugs’ and therefore illegal!

The 80s Until Now

During the 80s the Dutch government really crystallized their official stance on marijuana by bringing out directives where they stated what type of marijuana use, cultivation or trade was actually condoned and wouldn’t result in any action from law enforcement agencies.

In these directives they clearly stated that:

  • Carrying a maximum of 5 grams of marijuana or hashish for personal use would not lead to prosecution;
  • Cultivating a maximum of 5 plants for personal use would not lead to prosecution;
  • Marijuana or hashish may only be sold in licensed coffeeshops;
  • It’s forbidden to go into a coffeeshop if you’re under 18;

The coffeeshops themselves also got clear directives:

  • No advertisements;
  • No selling of hard drugs
  • No inconveniences for the people living close to the coffeeshops;
  • Forbidden to accept people under 18 years old;
  • No selling of more than 5 grams to a single person on a single day.

Later in 2013 and 2014 they got 2 more directives:

  • Coffeeshops close to the borders of other countries may not sell marijuana to foreigners, and;
  • No coffeeshops close to schools.

These directives were set up because hordes of drug-tourists from Germany, Belgium and France would flood small towns and cities just to buy some marijuana. And the second one because of the premise that youth should not have easy access to marijuana.

All these directives currently still are in effect and control the marijuana landscape in the Netherlands.

You might be wondering:

If cultivation of a maximum of 5 plants is only allowed, where do coffeeshops get their stuff from?

This is the whole contradictory part of the stance of the Dutch government on marijuana.

Since coffeeshops need to carry large amounts of marijuana and hashish, they cannot get that from small time cultivators. They get it from large illegal cultivators who risk prosecution. The Dutch government turns a blind eye to the coffeeshops buying from these large cultivators, but not to the big-time cultivators themselves. They get prosecuted quite harshly.

This extremely contradictory stance of the Dutch government has been criticized for decades but hasn’t led to any change as of yet…but it’s looking like state-controlled marijuana cultivation is going to become a reality in 2019, at least as an experiment.

Medical Use of Marijuana

You would expect a country which is such an early adopter of marijuana to have explored the possibilities of using it as a medicine…

But it wasn’t until 2004, that doctors could prescribe pharmaceutical medical-grade marijuana for a dozen of conditions.

Recently, scientific studies also have increased in the Netherlands to really explore the possibilities of marijuana as a medicine.

Most of this research is focused on the vaporization of cannabis with medical-grade vaporizers. Doctors who prescribe marijuana in the Netherlands also highly recommend using a vaporizer to use marijuana.


Today you’ve learned how the official stance of the Dutch government on marijuana evolved over the years.

You also learned that marijuana STILL isn’t legal but is only being condoned in the Netherlands. This means that law enforcement agencies don’t prioritize prosecuting anyone who cultivates or carries marijuana for personal use. Or coffeeshops who sell for personal use.

You also learned that contradictory part of this official stance is based on the fact that coffeeshops need to carry large quantities of marijuana and hashish to supply the demand, but cultivation of more than 5 plants is forbidden. This means they are forced to buy from illegal large cultivators. These big-time cultivators are taking big risks, because they do get prosecuted harshly.

Biography: Winston Peki is a marijuana enthusiast and vaporizer expert. Born and raised in Amsterdam, he grew up in a cannabis-friendly climate and learned quickly what a great ally this plant can be. He believes vaping cannabis and cannabis-based products is the easiest, safest and most straightforward alternative to smoking it. He is the Founder of Herbonaut, an informative vaporizer and cannabis-based products site where you can find vaporizer reviews, CBD oil reviews and more.

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