Is Marijuana Legal in Netherlands?Laws Explained

Netherlands Marijuana Laws Explained

When it comes to cannabis, no other country is quite as synonymous. The Netherlands is home to Amsterdam, a city that has become associated with forbidden pleasures. For tourists who are not seeking prostitution or vile wooden shoes, the Netherlands marijuana is the stigmatized fun that many are after. But wait… is marijuana legal in the Netherlands?

It is a commonly cited statistic that Canada’s legalization in October will make it the second country to end cannabis prohibition. The first was Uruguay, whose head of state, President Mujica got the ball rolling in 2012. This year, additional prospects in Mexico and South Africa took unprecedented steps towards full unadulterated cannabis legalization.

So where does that leave cannabis laws in Holland in the grand scheme of things? The truth is the status quo in the Netherlands is a tad complicated. Let’s explore the status of marijuana in this nation and discover why so many experts are reluctant to call it full legalization.

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The Unnecessarily Complicated Cannabis Laws in Holland

Weed and coffee in Amsterdam
Despite its long, storied cannabis culture, experts are reluctant to refer to The Netherland’s situation as legalization

The Netherlands marijuana laws are about as liberal as a nation can hope to attain without fully legalizing cannabis. Dutch citizens can possess 5 grams of weed at a time, for personal consumption. In addition to this, cannabis laws in Holland permit Dutch citizens to grow up to 5 marijuana plants for personal use as well.

This sounds like legalization… Perhaps my work here is done. Is this really case closed on the question of “is marijuana legal in the Netherlands?” Well, not quite. Let’s take a look at an essential fixture of the Netherlands marijuana culture, the Dutch coffee shop. In many cases, this is where much of the prohibitive red tape can be found.

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The Dutch Coffee Shop

The Dutch coffee shop is almost as famous an export of the Netherlands as the Dutch oven. It is on this sacred ground where cannabis laws in Holland begin to diverge from full unadulterated, legalization.

For starters, Dutch coffee shops are actually illegal. How is this even possible? Like many other facets of cannabis culture and legality in the Netherlands, authorities are willing to simply turn a blind eye. This ‘blind eye’ extends so far that trade authorities issue permits to these illegal businesses.

The coffee shop is a massive attraction for tourism. In fact, as many as 25-30% of all visitors to the Netherlands reported going to one. The other 70-75% of tourists are reported to be liars. Despite these statistics, cannabis laws in Holland prohibit coffee shops from selling to foreigners. This can make for some rather embarrassing encounters.

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Has This Happened to You?

(image via Anadolu Agency)
Dutch coffee shops can’t sell to foreigners… Next time you’re in Holland, spare yourself the dog bite and go to a dutch oven instead (image via Anadolu Agency)

You’re on your first vacation to the Netherlands. You tentatively walk into a coffee shop to see if the legends are true. This is not just any old coffee shop, but one that serves up baked goods infused with that worlds famous Netherlands marijuana.

Once you enter the shop, you finally muster up some courage. With an inconspicuous wink and a nervous tug of the camera strap around your neck, you ask for the goods… Some special Netherlands marijuana brownies.

Suddenly, from behind the counter emerge three stout, Aryan looking, undercover officers and a 120 pound Belgian Malinois… And they mean business. After several canine bites that draw blood and a lot of muffled crying, you’re humiliatingly dragged out of the coffee shop, and thrown into a police car that you’re pretty certain isn’t a Ford. You should have just gone to the Dutch oven instead…

The above scenario probably doesn’t sound familiar to anyone who has ever visited the Netherlands. While it is true cannabis laws in Holland prohibit foreigners from buying their products, you probably won’t encounter any problems purchasing marijuana as a tourist here.

This law is enforced, only at the discretion of municipal authorities. Most of these cities, including Amsterdam, simply choose not to do so. So for all intents and purposes, personal consumption of the Netherlands marijuana is permissible for foreigners and Dutch citizens alike.

However, on the commercial side of things, the nation’s cannabis laws appear to be a tad more restrictive.

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The Dutch coffee shop must abide by a series of rather strict guidelines if its owner wishes to operate. Many of these cannabis laws in Holland would not be unfamiliar to Canadians or Americans living in recreational states.

These shops are unable to sell what is referred to as “hard drugs”. These chiefly consist of heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines. Alcohol is conspicuously missing from this list. Store owners are also prohibited from selling to minors under 18 years of age. So far nothing out of the ordinary.

As far as quantity, 5 grams represents the upper limit of what can be sold at one time. This might be a little disappointing for those of you with ridiculously high tolerances. As far as supply, coffee shop owners are allowed to hold a maximum of 500 grams of marijuana at any time.

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The Supply Issue and Scratch and Sniff

scratch and sniff marijuana card Holland
Yes… this really happened (image via

So is marijuana legal in the Netherlands for commercial supplying purposes? And if not where do Dutch coffee shops get their weed? As it turns out, Dutch authorities are adamant about eliminating commercial growers. In Holland, producers are usually criminal organizations that attempt to grow cannabis on an industrial scale. This penetration of the black market into Holland’s cannabis industry has presented a significant issue and the nation has exhausted its list of solutions to get rid of illegal growers. Now the Netherlands relies on a number of law enforcement policies that range from unorthodox to bizarre.

One of the most infamous solutions emerged from a collaborative effort by power companies and Dutch authorities. This joint operation attempted to stamp out black market growers by equipping citizens with the necessary tools to identify and snitch on these criminals. Some of these energy corporations in Hague and Rotterdam began to issue scratch and sniff cards to the public that carried the scent of cannabis. If they smelled what they suspected to be a grow-op, they were encouraged to report it to the police. Authorities also issued similar scratch and sniff cards when trying to weed out the practice of illegal dutch ovens.

So technically, cannabis laws in Holland permit coffeeshops to sell their product but prohibit them from growing an amount sufficient to run their operation. Dutch laws also prohibit these businesses from purchasing cannabis themselves. This results in an odd, roundabout system where coffee shops employ third-party buyers who source the product and deliver it to the shop.

This is just one more of the paradoxes of the Netherlands marijuana industry that police are more than content to turn a blind eye to.

The system is not perfect but it seems to function. Children are prevented from acquiring weed and those that want weed are free to consume it. Who cares if there’s a mile of yellow tape surrounding the whole damn operation if you can simply walk under it with no consequences?

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Attempts to Legalize Cannabis in The Netherlands, What’s the Point?

Recently, there have been attempts to amend the Netherlands Marijuana laws. What would these laws change? And is there any purpose in fixing a system that seemingly isn’t broken? Certain members of the Netherlands’ government seem to think so.

A Dutch member of parliament by the name of Vera Bergkamp recently proposed a law that would permit the cultivation of cannabis for commercial purposes, and remove restrictions on personal growers. The legislation passed in the lower house by a narrow vote of 77 for and 72 against. The Proposal is not yet ratified law, however, as it is awaiting approval from the country’s First Chamber or upper house.

There are several irrefutable benefits to this new amendment to the Netherlands marijuana laws. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Streamlining The Cannabis Business = More Revenue

Dutch coffee and weed
The new legislation would greatly benefit Dutch coffee shops (image via Key to Cannabis)

By legalizing the commercial growth of cannabis, the Dutch government would be doing a huge favor to coffee shops. While the system works, as a matter of speaking, it doesn’t run as well as it could.

Third party cannabis buyers act as redundant middlemen within the Netherlands marijuana industry. The entire practice adds no value to coffee shops and places unnecessary financial constraints upon these small businesses. If the Dutch government wishes success for its small businesses, approval of Vera Bergkamp‘s law would be a step in the right direction.

In the Netherlands, coffee shop owners seem to be of one mind on this issue. August de Loor is the founder of the Bond Van Cannabis Distaillisten, or union for coffee shop owners in English. He is of the belief that this legislation would result in a more streamlined, less expensive, and safer world for business owners.

“It would be a more transparent system. The coffee shop owner would be as normal as the owner of a pub.”

It’s hard to argue with Auguste’s logic. Stigmatization of cannabis and cannabis users can push a fairly ubiquitous recreational pursuit into the margins of society.

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Stamping Out Black Market Cannabis Once and For All

Dutch grop-op
Full legalization puts cannabis back where it belongs… in the hands of the people and away from organized crime (image via

If these past 100 years of prohibition have taught us anything, it’s that organized crime and drugs do not mix. If a government chooses to keep cannabis illegal, it is essentially granting a lucrative industry to some seedy individuals.

Half measures are not effective either in wrestling cannabis from organized crime. This is a lesson that Canada has had to learn the hard way. For all intents and purposes, cannabis laws in Holland have created the most convoluted way possible to allow its citizens to use the plant. As a result, the underworld has found a way to ooze into the cracks of this ill-conceived system and take control of a substantial amount of production its operations… Scratch cards be damned!

If the Dutch Parliament were to pass this legislation, reputable licensed producers, rather than seedy basement operations would supply an industry.

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Higher Quality Products

If there’s one thing licensed producers are good at, its growing high-quality cannabis. Cannabis laws in Holland have shut the door on these businesses, but D66’s recent initiatives could change that. This would be of great benefit to consumers.

Legal cannabis differs from black market cannabis in a number of ways. Chief amongst these are quality, consistency, and potency. August de Loor predicts that amendment to the current laws would be better for consumers and business owners alike.

“The quality of the marijuana will get better, the variety will get better and the price will not be so high. In every way, it is better.”

Cannabis companies have the incentive to produce better products for their customers, while the black market does not. Better doesn’t just mean stronger either. Legalization in North America has resulted in a greater diversity of products, more palatable alternatives for beginners, and many more exciting changes.

Routine safety inspections are also an essential fixture of the legal cannabis industry. This fact has been on full display in California where cannabis was legalized this January. In attempting to enter the legal market, many cannabis products failed to meet the standards set by California’s regulatory bodies and were thus rejected. This was often for reasons related to the safety of the consumer.

California also provides some insight into the dangers of black market weed. Here illegal cannabis operates side by side with legal cannabis despite authorities best attempts to stamp it out. Grow ops are found in national forests, tucked away amongst the trees. Raids on these illegal cannabis operations have yielded some frightening results. Many of their products have tested positive for illegal pesticides that will kill you faster than a Dutch oven.


So is marijuana legal in the Netherlands? The most appropriate answer to this question might be a convoluted one. Dutch citizens face few restrictions in acquiring cannabis, and authorities seem to be willing to consent to a sort of unspoken agreement of informal legalization.

However, the legislative red tape surrounding the industry has created a number of hurdles, roadblocks and speed bumps that are characteristic of a nation with prohibition.

But times are changing, thanks to new ambitious legislation that seeks to strip away the scaffolding that props up organized crime and suppresses a meaningful cannabis economy in the Netherlands.

With so much to gain from amending cannabis laws in Holland, don’t be surprised if this nation soon becomes third on the list of countries to do away with marijuana prohibition.

By: Stefan Hosko

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