Drugs Policy and Coffee Shops in the Netherlands

Information about coffee shops in the Netherlands and the Dutch drugs policy regarding hard and soft drugs...

The Dutch policy on drugs is coordinated by The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The Dutch standpoint on social affairs is that if the problem is not "curable" it should be dealt with in a pragmatic way by managing the issues rather than enforcing strict laws.

The policy has three main objectives:

  • To protect public health
  • To reduce public nuisance
  • To suppress drug related crime

International treaties prevent the Dutch from legalising cannabis, therefore possession of a small amount is considered a misdemeanour rather than a criminal offence.

The Ministry of Security and Justice is responsible for combating drugs trafficking. The justice authorities and care agencies cooperate at both national and international level.

Dutch policy on drugs makes a clear distinction between hard and soft drugs. Depending on their addictiveness, hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs are strictly prohibited and the law is enforced. Soft drugs (including cannabis and marijuana) are illegal but the law enforcers have taken a policy of gedoogbeleid, tolerance.

Cannabis is still a controlled substance but "personal use" is acceptable. A limit of five grams to be carried per person, along with five plants for cultivation, is considered acceptable.

The number of drug-related deaths in the Netherlands is the lowest in Europe, as seen from a study undertaken by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in Lisbon. However, the Netherlands is still an important transport hub for the European drugs trade. Holland is also a producer and exporter of amphetamines and synthetic drugs.

Coffeeshops

After the Netherlands relaxed the soft drug policy in the 1970s, coffee shops began to take advantage of the law and sold small amounts of soft drugs to be consumed on the premises. Since then the industry has developed and is strictly regulated.

A coffee shop (coffeeshop) is a café that does not sell alcoholic beverages, and which, under certain circumstances, may sell soft drugs. Although the sale of soft drugs is an offence, few are prosecuted provided the shop owners sell only small quantities and meet the following conditions:

  • No more than five grams per person may be sold in any one transaction
  • No sale of hard drugs
  • Drugs may not be advertised
  • The coffee shop must not cause any nuisance
  • No drugs can be sold to people under the age of 18, nor can minors be admitted onto the premises

Since the implementation of the smoking ban in the Netherlands in July 2008, it's technically illegal to include tobacco in a cannabis cigarette.

Coffeeshops are found all over the Netherlands with the highest concentration in Amsterdam.

A coffeeshop is run as a normal business and is subject to tax laws. However, as there are no invoices or traceable suppliers of the cannabis, they are exempt from certain declarations. The mayor for the community has the power to close any coffeeshop not working within the regulations.

Note: from 1 January 2013 new government legislation mean that coffee shops operate like private clubs, with members being issued with a membership card. Membership will only be open to Netherlands residents who are aged 18 or over. It is no longer possible for foreigners or non-residents to visit coffee shops. In practice, this means that from 1 January 2013 it is illegal for non-resident visitors to the Netherlands to use soft drugs.

For the provinces of Limburgh, North Brabant and Zeeland, this legislation came into force on 1 May 2012.

Further Information