Legal or not? Everything you ever wanted to know about drugs in the Netherlands as explained by Trimbos Instituut

By Alessio Ravenna
Translated from Italian by Steve Rickinson

How many times have you heard phrases like “cannabis is legal in the Netherlands” or “you are allowed to grow five plants at home”? Many, probably. And not just by tourists or aficionados of Amsterdam: no, even residents often have somewhat confused ideas on the subject.

We thought, then, to get some clarity on the topic, addressing the most common questions to Dutch experts on drug policy, the Trimbos Instituut researchers.
Is cannabis legal in the Netherlands?
Cannabis use is legal in the Netherlands, but the sale, possession, cultivation, and distribution are illegal.

However, Holland is famous for its policy of “tolerance”. This means that citizens of age are not prosecuted in case of possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis and derivatives purchased in specialized shops, called coffeeshops. Advertising for these stores is prohibited. Their stock cannot contain more than 500 grams, and available marijuana and hashish cannot contain more than 15% THC. In coffeeshops, it is also forbidden to possess hard drugs, consume alcohol and (in some cities, but not in Amsterdam) sell to tourists and non-resident foreigners.

Cannabis smoking is known to be tolerated in the Netherlands: what exactly is tolerated? For example, is smoking allowed on the street?
A person can smoke cannabis on the street according to local regulations. When prohibited, it is highlighted by special public signs. It is generally considered to be a rude gesture, but not an illegal act. Since it is not always clear where it is legal and where it is not, the advice is to consume in coffeeshops or your home.

If the production is illegal, where do the coffeeshops get their supplies?
Production is illegal and, consequently, the supply of the coffeeshops takes place on the black market.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms, are illegal under Dutch law. So why do smart shops keep selling them?
The term “paddo” comes from the Dutch word “paddenstoel”, which literally means “mushroom”. Smart shops no longer sell these hallucinogenic mushrooms. The law is clear about this: any type of mushroom containing psilocin or psilocybin is illegal. The fungus itself is not illegal but it must be taken into account that every mushroom has a hat and a stem: when this is grown through a specific technique it produces – in the subsoil – another type of organism, called sclerotia, also known as truffle. It is not a common truffle, but a “magic” truffle containing psilocin and psilocybin. Sclerotia is a distinct organism from the fungus, so its sale is legal.

Is there a tolerance policy related to other drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine?
No, there is no kind of tolerance. It should be remembered, however, that the use of any substance in the Netherlands is legal. Instead, the opposite must be done in cases of possession, distribution, and production. Depending on the circumstances, judges and police may choose not to prosecute people for small amounts for personal use.

According to your research, is there evidence to support the “stepping-stone theory”? Is there data confirming how smoking cannabis can lead to the use of hard drugs?
There is no evidence to support the stepping-stone theory. It is true that many hard drug users have taken their first steps with cannabis, but it is also true that the majority of people consume cannabis without pushing their interest towards other substances.

Being the marijuana so available, are there high peaks in consumption?
In the Netherlands, about 21% of the adult population has used cannabis at least once in their life. Only 4.2% of this group consumes on a regular basis. Translated into figures, compared to the entire population, this means that approximately 560,000 people regularly use cannabis.


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