How Does the Cannabis Industry Actually Work in The Netherlands?

The Netherlands has been the cultural home of weed for quite some time, welcoming marijuana lovers for decades. With a light toleration policy regarding soft drugs and a tempting selection of cannabis types, not to mention the large array of coffee shops available, cannabis enthusiasts typically the Netherlands for this reason. However, when you are within the NL border, it helps to know the best ways to cultivate and buy high-quality cannabis. The following guide gives you an overview of how the cannabis industry works in the Netherlands.

What are Soft Drugs?

Soft drugs are substances such as cannabis and hash as they are considered less damaging to your health than hard drugs, which are deemed illegal. Weed is considered a soft drug, and it is technically illegal to buy, consume or grow in the Netherlands, with a few exceptions of course. It has been decriminalized for personal consumption under the government’s toleration policies.

Policy Regarding Soft Drugs in Coffee Shops

Coffee shops are establishments in the Netherlands where people can purchase and consume cannabis as well as tea, juice, and (of course) coffee. Marijuana has been available for recreational use in coffee shops since 1976.

If you are a Dutch resident or a European citizen and you are over the age of 18, you can purchase cannabis from any coffee shop across the Netherlands. If you are a Dutch resident, any Dutch ID will do. If you are a European citizen, then you must use your passport as ID.

If you are not a citizen of the European Union, you can only purchase cannabis from coffee shops in Amsterdam, as long as you are at least 18 years of age and have ID on you. If you try to purchase cannabis from a coffee shop as a non-EU resident outside of the city of Amsterdam, then you will be decline you as a customer.

No matter who you are or where you are from, all customers are limited to a purchase of 5 grams of cannabis per day with no exceptions. In addition, coffee shops are only legally allowed to have x amount of grams in their facility at a time. This limit and the motive to keep prevent street sellers from occurring is why customers are limited to 5 grams of cannabis per day.

Coffeeshop weed

Toleration Criteria for Coffee Shops

If you are unfamiliar, the Netherlands is made up of twelve provinces, and there are many people who use “Holland” when discussing the Netherlands. Despite this common misconception, Holland is simply one section of the Netherlands, not a name for the whole country. The Netherlands is divided into two parts, North Holland and South Holland. These terms is what causes the misuse of ‘Holland’.

Holland tolerates the sale of cannabis in coffee shops and takes action to curb the uncontrolled sale of psychoactive susbstances. By adopting toleration strategies, the government separates the two markets. Cannabis is sold in coffee shops, while other soft drugs are sold in headshops or regulated online headshops/stores.

The overarching goal of this strategy is that cannabis users will be less obliged to buy cannabis and other soft drugs from criminal street dealers, keeping the public safe and preventing unethical sale of these psychoactive substances. The strict terms and conditions coffee shops and headshops must follow as part of the Dutch Tolerance Policy include:

  • They must not cause any type of nuisance.
  • They must not advertise cannabis and other soft drugs.
  • The selling of hard drugs (ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, etc.) is prohibited.
  • No alcoholic beverages may be sold or consumed on the premises.
  • The selling of cannabis to minors or allowing them on the premises is prohibited.
  • They are not allowed to advertise or promote the use of any illegal drugs.
  • They are not allowed to sell over five grams of cannabis in a single transaction.

Municipalities determine how many or whether to allow these coffee shops to operate within their boundaries. They may also impose additional rules. The Dutch government also controls the number of coffee shops allowed to operate. For example, one city may be allowed to have 10 coffee shops to operate at a time while they allow another city near by to only operate 5 at a time. If you want to open a coffee shop in the Netherlands you are put on a long waiting list that you could be stuck on for many years!

Coffeeshop Amsterdam

Laws for the Cultivation of Cannabis in the Netherlands

There are three distinct groups of marijuana grown: Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid. No matter which group you prefer, all three are illegal to grow in the NL for personal consumption.

The system that growers and coffee shops run under is considered a ‘grey’ area, meaning it is somewhat legal and illegal at the same time. This is where things get a little bit confusing. It is illegal to grow large amounts of cannabis in the Netherlands for the motive to sell to the coffee shops, yet the coffee shops are allowed to obtain amounts of cannabis that are over the allowed limit. Weird-right? Well, it gets weirder… It is legal for coffee shops to possess and sell cannabis, however, it is illegal for them to purchase their stock. This means the oporation of coffee shops is legal, yet the purchase and growth of the high quantity of cannabis needed is illegal. That being said, there are large grow ops in the Netherlands that illegally grow and sell to the coffee shops, while the coffee shops legally sell in retail quantities. Rather confusing, indeed.

But what if you live in the Netherlands, are you allowed to grow your own cannabis? Dutch residents are granted permission to grow no more than five plants at a time for the motive of personal use. If you exceed this number, authorities will simply confiscate your plants. Once in a while, depending on the case, you will receive a small fine for each additional plant.

What about Medical Cannabis in the Netherlands?

Unlike weed for recreational use, weed for medicinal use in the Netherlands has been fully legal since 2003. Since then, the Office of Medicinal Cannabis started delivering medicinal grade to pharmacies, who distribute it for them to patients. Today, the country has been a front runner in the applications of medical weed in the healthcare industry, and they continue to innovate as patients request new varieties.

In addition to the usual selections of THC-rich varieties, you can also find CBD-rich varieties in the Netherlands. CBD-rich varieties are still in the minority, although some coffee shops are trying to appeal to more medical users. According to Harvard Medical School, CBD has many health benefits, and it is also effective for alleviating pain. One of the most common ways to use CBD as a pain reliever is by ingesting CBD oil. Some patients even supplement CBD for more serious health issues such as epilepsy.

The Legality of CBD in the Netherlands

CBD is treated as a legal product in the NL since THC levels in the plant are negligible (no more than 0.02% THC) or completely absent. If you want to get a decent supply of CBD-rich cannabis, your best bet is either to cultivate your own from CBD enriched cannabis seeds or buy it from a shop that uses European certified hemp plants, which are grown organically.

How Does Getting Cannabis in Amsterdam Work?

“It’s legal, but it ain’t 100% legal. I mean you just can’t walk into a restaurant, roll a joint and start puffing away. I mean they want you smoking at home or designated places.” ~ Vincent Vega on the legality of hash in Amsterdam, Pulp Fiction.

Like the rest of the Netherlands, weed and hash are technically legal. However, a new law introduced states that coffee shops can’t operate within 250 m of a school. Unfortunately, one of Amsterdam’s oldest coffee shops, Mellow Yellow, permanently closed down because of this.

Also, plans to introduce the wietpas to register Dutch residents and exclude tourists from partaking in weed were abandoned around that time. Now, famous Amsterdam coffee shops like Amnesia, Bluebird and Boerejongens abound there, and they have extensive menus with high-quality hash and other cannabis products that residents and tourists alike can try.

Although you can’t find the wide array of concentrates and edibles that you’d find in the cannabis dispensaries in the USA or Canada, the coffee shops in Amsterdam have delicious cannabis-infused brownies and different flavoured space cakes you can purchase. These confections contain THC and give a you high, although it can take up to 1-2 hours before you feel anything since your body processes THC differently if you eat it vs smoke it. Eating THC is processed the same way our bodies process food while smoking cannabis has a much more immediate reaction on our system.

Smoking in Amsterdam

Final Thoughts

From CBD recipes to CBD Herbs, to other cannabis-infused products, there has never been any time like the present to be a fan and connoisseur of weed-especially if you find yourself in the Netherlands; the land of herbal freedom! The laws surrounding how the cannabis industry works in the NL can be a little confusing, but this post should demystify it for the most part. Whether you are a visitor or tourist, it’s a good idea to thoroughly know the current laws and regulations that govern the municipality you are located in, as it will save you a lot of hassle.


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