A trial to explore the roll-out of a regulated cannabis market in the Netherlands is expected to begin its initial phase in October 2023.
The Netherlands – and particularly the tourist hotspot of Amsterdam – is famous for its cannabis cafes or ‘coffeeshops’, but the sale and cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes remains illegal outside of these establishments.
While coffeeshops are allowed to sell small amounts of cannabis to consumers, they operate under strict rules, and suppliers are prohibited from selling any cannabis to the businesses, creating what has become known as the ‘backdoor policy’, which leaves the city open to crime.
Initially approved by the senate in 2019, the Wietexperiment [Weed Experiment] will see a select number of cultivators permitted to supply legal cannabis to coffeeshops in ten cities throughout the country.
While the full trial is not expected to launch until 2024, on Wednesday, 22 February, the health minister Ernst Kuipers announced that a pilot – or start-up – phase would get underway in the final quarter of 2023 in the cities of Tilberg and Breda.
It is expected to begin when three cultivators are in a position to supply products to coffeeshops in these cities.
The experiment has seen several delays to its launch, mainly due to producers facing logistical issues, such as being unable to set up bank accounts. According to local media reports, ten growers were originally selected for the trial, but one has since lost its permit and only one of the others is ready to start.
The minister told MPs that the initial period would last for six months, with the aim being to ‘practise with all the processes and systems in place’ so the transition can run ‘smoothly’ before other cities come on board.
The mayors will be responsible for enforcing the rules around the supply of regulated cannabis to the coffeeshops. The products will have to meet the government’s quality, labelling and packaging requirements, but there will be no limit to the THC concentration and producers can set their own pricing.
Minister Kuipers added that the ‘quantity, quality and diversity’ of the cannabis being supplied must be ‘sufficient’ before the full trial can be rolled out.
“Together with Minister Yesilgoz-Zegerius, I am committed to the success of the weed experiment,” he commented.
“I also sense enthusiasm among all participants and am therefore pleased that we can take a first smaller step before the official start of the experiment.”’
Tackling cannabis tourism in Amsterdam
Earlier this week, Dutch media reported that officials on Amsterdam City Council had expressed an interest in joining the experiment.
The city initially decided not to take part when the plans were first launched, as officials felt its 166 cannabis coffeeshops would be ‘too many to police’.
It has also recently announced a ban on the smoking of cannabis in the city’s famous Red Light District, which is expected to come into force in May 2023. The move is part of the city’s efforts to address the negative effects of ‘mass tourism’ in the historic district, which will also see restrictions on the opening times of certain establishments.