Dutch MPs vote to relax cannabis laws

Dutch MPs vote to relax cannabis laws

Coffee is not the main priority in Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Source: Flickr

Dutch MP Vera Bergkamp of the progressive D66 party has had her legislation to legalise cannabis cultivation approved after a 77 to 72 vote in the lower house. 

Dutch tourism figures suggest that 25-30 per cent of visitors to Amsterdam spend time in a coffee shop.

Bergkamp said the cultivation and sale of the drug would be better controlled if it was officially regulated and the draft law would help fight criminality.

D66 said it would enable quality checks and allow the authorities to tax the multimillion-euro industry.

The legislation, if it passes the upper house, could help coffee shops, which currently operate in a legal grey area, trade more freely.

The bill overturns a limit on more than five plants for personal use, although the sale of small amounts of cannabis has been tolerated since 1976.

The drug is not formally legal in the Netherlands but the authorities turn a blind eye to those in possession of 5g or less.

Coffee shops are allowed to store a maximum of 500g of the green intoxicant on the premises at any one time. Growers have not generally been prosecuted if they are cultivating five plants or less.

The bill still has to be approved in the upper house, known as the First Chamber, where there it is unknown if a majority will be reached.

Commentators said it was unlikely the bill would reach the upper house before the March 15 general election and might become bargaining chip when forming a coalition.

Under the new law, retailers would be able to buy certified growers within a “closed system”.

“It would be a more transparent system,” said August de Loor, founder of the Bond Van Cannabis Detaillisten union for coffee shop owners. “The coffee shop owner would be as normal as the owner of a pub.

“The quality of the marijuana will get better, the variety will get better and the price will not be so high,” de Loor said. “In every way it is better.”

A government-backed scheme to shut down any coffee shops within 250m of schools has resulted in many closures. The most high profile casualty was Mellow Yellow, the oldest coffee shop in Amsterdam, which was closed on New Year’s Day.

“[The bill] is good news for the coffee shop industry because it will finally – if it passes the First Chamber – put an end to a lot of stuff we can’t organise in a normal and transparent way,” said Joachim Helms, chairman of the Coffee Shop Union.

Coffee shops are not allowed to buy cannabis, with many owners employing third-party buyers. Once the drug is through the door, providing it does not exceed 500g, it is tolerated by the police.

Opponents of the bill have said larger-scale cultivation would contravene international law and increase “addiction” among the young.

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