Visit Holland - The Netherlands
In the Netherlands, a statutory distinction is made between soft and hard drugs. The policy means that the use of soft drugs (cannabis) is tolerated under strict conditions.
The possession of more than five grammes of hash or marijuana is formally punishable by law but the police do not take action when soft drugs are sold in coffeeshops.
What are coffeeshops?
Coffeeshops are authorised sales outlets for soft drugs and the use of marijuana and hash is permitted at these locations. The idea behind this is to regulate the use and trade of soft drugs and to try to avoid that users are introduced to hard drugs. Residents and non-residents under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter coffeeshops or use soft drugs.
Strict regulations apply to coffeeshops. These are the most important regulations:
* A customer is permitted to purchase a maximum of 5 grammes of cannabis per day.
* Alcohol may not be served.
* The sale of hard drugs is not permitted.
* Those under 18 may not be admitted to the premises or sold cannabis.
* Advertising drugs is not permitted.
Soft drug policy in Amsterdam
The municipal authorities have the power to determine the number of coffeeshops permitted to operate within the municipality. They can also enforce supplementary requirements to help minimise nuisance in the area surrounding the coffeeshop.
Amsterdam is dedicated to maintaining a small-scale, manageable and transparent coffeeshop sector. In mid-2011, there were 222 coffeeshops in the city and the large majority of these were located in the Centre District of the city. Amsterdam’s soft drug policy is focused on discouraging young people from using soft drugs, combatting public nuisance and protecting the health of users. The regulation of not allowing those under the age of 18 into coffee shops is especially closely monitored.
Coffeeshop owners are responsible for providing satisfactory information about the quality of the soft drugs on sale and are subject to thorough background checks.
An integral part of the implementation of the soft drug policy in Amsterdam is regular consultation between the City of Amsterdam, business owners in the sector, health care institutions (including the Area Health Authority) and the educational authorities. Coffeeshops have helped to reduce the prevalence of soft drugs street trading, especially to tourists.
New cabinet proposals for coffeeshops
Tourists can continue to visit coffeeshops in Amsterdam, also after 1 January 2013. This decision by Mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan is based on the latest coalition accord presented by the new Cabinet in October 2012.
The outgoing Cabinet (2010 - 2012) had proposed that only Dutch members would be allowed access to coffeeshops. Users would have to register to receive a coffeeshop membership card. This membership pass, already initiated in the south of the Netherlands, is now off the table.
The City of Amsterdam supports the ambition of the cabinet to reduce both soft drug use among young people and the nuisance associated with it around coffeeshops. Over 5 million tourists visit Amsterdam on a yearly base. The City of Amsterdam fears that denying tourists access to coffeeshops would result in an increase in street trade, enormous pressure on the remaining coffeeshops and greater health risks in general.