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Amsterdam’s Cannabis Culture in Jeopardy Due to New Laws

February 25, 2015

Amsterdam, long known as the canna-tourist mecca home to hundreds of cannabis coffeeshops, is now facing crackdowns due to changes to the Netherlands' marijuana laws. As we watch the United States take steps towards ending prohibition, the Netherlands has been stepping away from legalization with stricter policies in regards to cannabis.

Marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but since 1976 and the revision of the Opium Act, law enforcement has not prosecuted the possession of small amounts (anything under five grams for personal use). This policy is called “gedoogbeleid,” known as the “Dutch tolerance model,” and once allowed the cannabis community to flourish. Coffeeshops could offer cannabis for sale without fear, and tourists and citizens alike could partake in a joint in the cafes while authorities looked the other way.

In 2011, new laws targeted all cannabis strains that have a THC percentage of 15% or more, labeling them as “hard drugs,” and prohibiting coffee shops from selling these strains. Despite the law, an estimated 80% of cannabis cafes still offer these high-potency strains, increasingly sourced from criminal organizations that grow large quantities of cannabis underground with little regard for mold, let alone quality testing.

The Dutch government passed measures in 2012 designed to keep tourists and foreigners from buying cannabis in the world-renowned cannabis cafes by requiring a “cannabis card,” reserved for Netherlands residents only (although Amsterdam cafes all but ignored the ordinance, concerned for their tourist economy). Last month, Amsterdam’s mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, was allowed by the court of justice to ban cannabis cafes in the Red Light District (another tourist draw), and last year, Van der Laan also issued an ordinance that all cafes within 250 meters of secondary schools must close their doors during school hours.

What will happen if the Netherlands continues this crackdown? Will this cannabis mecca become obsolete? Is this the end of an era?

For the United States, the end of marijuana prohibition is within reach, an elusive goal dancing on the horizon, but a U.S. victory for cannabis would be bittersweet with the knowledge that the Netherlands’ famous cannabis community is in jeopardy.