No to Grass

Dutch May Ban Hash but Would Permit Dutch Cannabis Use To Continue

The Netherlands will outlaw hashish, though Dutch cannabis will still be permitted.

03.01.12 8:30 PM ET

Travelers, take note: Amsterdam will soon be a slightly more sober place. Today, the Dutch government announced its intention to prohibit the sale of hashish in the Netherlands, though Dutch cannabis will still be permitted. The change of policy is expected to go into effect “fairly quickly,” according to members of Parliament.

The ban is part of a broader effort to dial back the legendary Dutch laxity on drug use. While soft drugs like marijuana and its variants are not technically legal in the Netherlands, their use is “permitted”—a state of legal limbo that allows "coffee shops" to stock up to 500 grams. However, the law does not allow the production, shipment or trade in large quantities of the drugs. In reality, though, the shops sell both Dutch-grown marijuana and imported hashish, which is a concentrated and compacted form of cannabis.

The call for a more restrictive drug policy has been growing louder in the Netherlands since the Christian Democratic Party first entered government in 2002. The current government has even called for a ban on cannabis and related substances for foreigners (the Dutch would be given a so-called weed pass). “We don’t have any plans to abolish the current policy altogether,” says Ard Van der Steur, whose conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy is the largest in the governing coalition. But he concedes that his political partners do intend to press for an outright ban and “prohibit all use of soft drugs.”

“In the Netherlands, we have a drug policy that is a success, in the sense that we have minimized drug use. But we do see that the use of ‘soft drugs’ among young people is relatively high. It is something to worry about,” says Van der Steur.

Dutch cannabis will still be permitted in part because it is a locally grown product, says Van der Steur. “Hashish is produced abroad. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Morocco are the biggest suppliers. Paradoxically, we do everything we can to keep the stuff out of the Netherlands, in policing the borders, policing the harbors, and policing the airports. At the same time, once the drugs have passed that point, one is allowed to sell it in a local ‘coffee shop.’”

“We are contributing to and accepting the existence of international criminal organizations,” says Van der Steur. “After all, you can’t get the drugs here in a rowboat.”

One of the main issues plaguing the Dutch drug policy is its built-in contradictions, which give international criminal organizations room to maneuver. Boris Van der Ham, of the major Dutch opposition party Democrats 66, thinks banning hash is not a bad idea, but suggests the best way to make the system work is to make some production of cannabis legal. “We want the ‘coffee shop’ to have a cannabis planter who supplies, similarly to a bar being furnished beer,” says Van der Ham. “You don’t have to legalize in order to regulate. Giving out a limited number of permits to grow and sell would do the job.”