5 myths about weed in the Netherlands

Alright, let’s roll up those sleeves and get to business. Time to grow some weed! Oh wait… we can’t… or can we? We’re not entirely sure. Let’s get up to speed on this, and bust some myths about weed in the Netherlands.

The weird legal construction concerning our Dutch weed (nederwiet) deserves all the attention it can get. Ready? We hope so, because some of these are about to surprise you.

If you’re a newbie to weed smoking, check out our guide to visiting a coffeeshop for the first time. Or, for the wild ones out there, we’ve got all you need to know about drugs in the Netherlands as well.

Dutch weed is legal, right? ✋ ❌

Yep, that’s the number one myth. Plenty of people, especially tourists, think weed is legal in Holland.

Contrary to popular opinion, that’s NOT the case. Dutch weed is only decriminalised. This means the police won’t randomly arrest unsuspecting smokers, but if a group causes nuisance while smoking weed, then the law can act as a fallback.

The Dutch government adopted this strategy in 1976, after researching what would be best to prevent drug addiction and realising weed could be a gateway drug to harder and more addictive substances such as ecstasy and cocaine.

Back then, you could only purchase weed via a dealer as there were no coffeeshops. Dealers had a whole assortment of substances you might be interested in, so it was far easier to start experimenting with other drugs.

Since the decriminalisation of weed, consumers of 18 years and above could smoke their skunk on the streets and carry up to five grams per person. This caused small bars to jump into this newly discovered market and start selling our friend Mary Jane.

READ MORE | What Amsterdam bars can I smoke weed in (that aren’t coffeeshops)?

Still, a gigantic legal clutter (think entangled Christmas lighting) was created to keep weed “officially” illegal to not butt heads with the United Nations (and the EU), but at the same time not prohibit research on drug prevention and common logic.

This had some crazy consequences. Although smoking and consuming weed is okay and selling it is condoned, it is illegal to grow and sell to coffeeshops. To control this, the police do randomised and regular check-ups on coffeeshops.

2. Everyone in the Netherlands loves weed

If you think that now there is peace in our little Dutch kingdom and it will only be a matter of time before weed will be legalised, then think again. There are still plenty of haters out there, and many Dutch people want the green stuff banned completely.

The Christian parties, in particular, hold a persistent ban-weed campaign. Crazy antics followed since these parties have been part of a lot of Dutch coalitions for the past decades.

Not everyone is a fan of weed, especially when it comes to smoking it in public. Image: Freepik

Weed was decriminalised back in 1967 as part of a two-step program. First decriminalisation and then regulation. The Netherlands just never got to that second step. 😬

There is plenty of research to support that there are fewer addicts and lower crime statistics in Holland compared to other countries like the USA. Still, Christian parties, namely SGP, CDA and CU, would love nothing more than to close down those evil sin machines called coffeeshops.

READ MORE | Why all drugs should be decriminalised in the Netherlands

Ironically enough, some criminal organisations are also doing the best they can to keep the growing process illegal. This way, they can still make some decent tax-free money and be able to fund some of their other branches of illegal activity.

3. Owning a coffeeshop is easy

You think that running a coffeeshop means easy cash? Racking in the money whilst smoking? If only… coffeeshops fell victim to the Christian dogma because rule after rule was enforced upon them.

First off, coffeeshops weren’t allowed to advertise their shop (ok, that’s not that weird considering alcohol also can’t — oh wait…).

Nope, in the Netherlands, a coffeeshop is not the place to go for an Iced Caramel Latte. 👀 Image: Depositphotos

Then, they came up with the rule that coffeeshops had to be at least 150 meters from any schools in the vicinity. This forced a lot of coffeeshops to close down.

READ MORE | 17 best coffeeshops in Amsterdam: the best spots to smoke in 2023

What followed were laws that classified between soft drugs and hard drugs. This actually made some varieties of weed hard drugs (when levels of THC are higher than 15%) and some soft drugs.

Mind you, these categories were created in the first place in 1967 to make a distinction between weed and other drugs in order to condone it.

According to this new rule, the police have to officially check THC levels (with their great expertise in this area and plenty of time on their hands), and coffeeshop owners now have to pass up on some great products.

Next up, they extended the school rule to 200 meters. Sadly enough, it wasn’t stated clearly enough if this was supposed to be 200 meters walking distance or as the eagle flies.

So before long, police officers were on their knees with measuring sticks trying to see which coffeeshops were obliged to close down and which weren’t.

4. Dutch weed is of consistently great quality

Again, this one is sadly not true.

Although the Dutch have experimented with many rules and regulations surrounding weed, no progress has been made on this front.

We just can’t guarantee the quality will be consistently good or bad. One week a particular grower might be arrested, and very the next week, another grower might start back up.

When it became clear a national weed pass was starting to backfire, with tourists now buying weed illegally, the Dutch House of Representatives wanted to get rid of the issue ASAP.

They went back to their perpetual plan B, which was delegating this hot topic to the regional ruling. Now municipalities have a lot of the power.

5. The stereotypes about smokers are true

This leads us to the final myth. Obviously, people think in stereotypes, and obviously, there can often be some truth to them.

But let’s be honest: generalisation is just another word for ignorance. Not all gays have a leather fetish, not all girls love to comb their hair while talking about ponies, and not all smokers are flushed-through-the-toilet low-life addicts trembling before taking their next bong hit.

Of course, they are out there. But there is a much wider variety of species. It’s fascinating to see who drops by at coffee shops.

If it isn’t rich tourists coming for a smoke, it’s a fitness instructor. If it isn’t a model, it’s an accounting manager. If it’s not a war photographer, it’s an academic scholar. If it isn’t a programmer, it’s a school teacher.

Yup, the coffeeshop crowd ranges from student to professor. Image: Depositphotos

In a world where Rihanna, Michael Phelps, Natalie Portman and Morgan Freeman also smoke once in a while, we can’t see how those archaic notions of smokers are still so widely entertained and believed.

Let’s start thinking and talking about weed less in the sense of OD-ing on our latest batch of overcooked crystal meth, and more in the sense of enjoying a fine glass of ripe red wine after a good meal!

Did you know these things weren’t true about weed in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below. 

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in September 2015, but was updated for your reading pleasure in May 2023 

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Martijn Van Veen
Martijn Van Veen
Martijn is a filmmaker and curious mind fascinated with the ever changing world around him. He loves to overshare and to mingle in debates surrounding feminism, LGBT rights, ethnicity, immigration, copyright, new media and the war on drugs.

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  1. […] Unlike what people think: weed is not legal in the Netherlands, but it is tolerated. The Dutch government just chose to turn a blind eye of what is happening. They call this “a crime without a victim”, so there is nothing to prosecute. It is only in small quantities though: a person can only have 5 grams of cannabis or 5 cannabis plants (at home that is, no walking around all day long with 5 plants you stoners). […]

  2. I admire Amsterdam for all are welcome.I think most of us that appreciate The Netherlands is for the beauty and culture understand the frustration of the cannibis shops Aka coffee shops .In the USA California took so long to semi legalize marijuana but Not federally . California does allow people with the proper license to grow a certain number of plants for personal consumption. We are mostly happy that people are not being put in jail for use of the green stuff .we still do not allow people to smoke publicly and we applaud this for the respect of those that do not agree with the new law . in regards to Those who are sick with cancer or other terminally ill sicknesses,we welcome marijuana for the reliefs of pain and nausea.Anthony Bourdain Stated Amsterdam was one of his favorite cities to visit .
    Due to the Highwinds occasionally in the Netherlands,I would advise those who can’t find their way not to smoke . 🙂


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