5 myths about weed in the Netherlands

All right, let’s roll up those sleeves and get our hands dirty. Time to get to business and grow some weed! Oh wait… we can’t.. I mean… I think we can’t? I’m not entirely sure. Let’s get up to speed on this.

The weird legal construction concerning our Dutch weed (nederwiet) deserves all the attention it can get. That’s why it’s time to deconstruct five of the most commonly believed Dutch weed myths.

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, it is not the case. Dutch weed is only decriminalised. This means the police won’t randomly arrest unsuspecting smokers but if a group cause 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.

It was decided that regulating and decriminalising marijuana would help lower the number of addicts. Criminalizing and penalising marijuana use only perpetuated the drug problems.

Since 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.

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 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 still illegal to grow and to sell to coffeeshops. To control this, the police do randomised and regular check-ups on coffeeshops.

Police will check if the coffeeshops are abiding by the maximum amount of weed allowed in stock and are also obliged to ask where the coffeeshop owner sourced their weed. Obviously, the coffeeshop owner can’t share this information, because then his or her grower will be arrested, fined and jailed. So the most colourful excuses are made up:

  • “The magic fairies brought it in again?”
  • “Your friends at the vampire justice league are helping you out?”

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. 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.

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. I think the Christians and criminals should totally hook up, become frenemies and start a union: Christian Criminals United.

3. Owning a coffeeshop is easy

You think that running a coffeeshop means easy cash? Racking in the money whilst smoking? If only… voffeeshops 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…). 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.

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 product.

Then 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. In fact, I applaud this. It puts a big smile on my face when I see taxpayers money being spent wisely (over 160 million is spent on preventing soft drug-related criminal activity)! And some more coffeeshops were forced to close down.

So now the government thought up the wonderful “weed pass” system whereby Dutch citizens were required to get weed pass if they wanted to buy marijuana. But the pass could only be used to purchase weed from one coffeeshop. Yes dear reader, only one. I love to compare this to beer and alcohol. How would you like it if the government demanded you register for a pass so you could drink alcohol in only one bar?

Obviously this information would be put on your medical record (insurance companies began soiling their panties all over the place). This was the perfect solution. Trials were run in Maastricht. They wanted to ban drug tourism and street trade. What actually happened was that all casual smokers started buying illegally and street trade went through the roof.

4. Dutch weed is of consistently great quality

What’s even more ridonculous (the superlative for ridiculous from here on out) is that the government thought the weed pass would imply that the government is guaranteeing the safety and quality of weed use to owners of a weed pass. If they come up with the brilliant plan of demanding people use a government issued pass, then it would make total sense to actually check if the shit is legit.

But no such luck.

No progress has been made on this front. The government expected people to start registering as true blue citizens but didn’t want the hassle of actually having to ensure that the weed wasn’t grown in toilet bowls and dumpsters.

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 the weed pass was starting to backfire 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 regional ruling. Now municipalities have a lot of the power.

5. The stereotypes about smokers are true

This leads us to the final myth. “A shot before open goal” as we phrase it so aptly in Dutch. It doesn’t actually translate, but who the f*** cares?

Obviously, people think in stereotypes and obviously, there can often be some truth to it. Let’s be honest: generalisation is just another word for stupidity. Not all gays have a leather fetish, not all girls love to comb their hair while talking about ponies, not all executives are stealing and conniving sociopaths and not all smokers are flushed-through-the-toilet low life addicts trembling before taking their next bong hit whilst interacting with you with the response time of a defective Commodore 64.

Of course they are out there. I’ve worked in a coffeeshop so I know they are out there! But there is a much wider variety of species. It’s fascinating to see who drops by. 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. I. Kid. You. Not.

In a world where Rihanna, Michael Phelps, Natalie Portman and Morgan Freeman also smoke once in a while I 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 June 2021 

Feature image: TechPhotoGal/Pixabay

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). […]


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