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‘We’re Gonna Poke Everyone with Pitchforks’: Dutch ‘Medical Social Club’ Pushes Limits

A social club for medical cannabis patients in the northern region of the Netherlands is about to open its third illegal location in less than a year, a testament to the Dutch demand for quality cannabis.

The club, Medical Social Club Suver Nuver, has more than 1,200 members and supplies cannabis oil to roughly 2,500 people. All this is technically against the law, but founder Rinus Beintema believes he’s come up with a way to align the club’s activities with existing Dutch cannabis policy. “We steer our own course,” he said. “We’re stubborn farmers here in the north, and we're gonna poke everyone’s ass with our pitchforks."

Although the Netherlands officially legalized medical cannabis in 2003, a large number of patients do not buy the cannabis available in pharmacies, which is produced by a company called Bedrocan. Patients have complained that the five strains offered by Bedrocan are too limited, that the cannabis is treated with gamma radiation, and that only a few insurance companies will cover the cost. Many Dutch patients simply don’t want to smoke and are looking for cannabis in a different form.

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Cannabis oil is available at only one Dutch pharmacy, which produces it in-house from Bedrocan buds. Bedrocan has stated that it's working on cannabis oil, but it’s not yet available. As a result, the Netherlands, like a lot of European countries, is home to an underground system for producing and distributing medicinal cannabis oil. And it's growing every day. 

It's important to remember that the cultivation of cannabis is still illegal in the Netherlands. To make matters worse, hash oil, another term for cannabis oil, has been listed as a Class A drug since the ‘70s. Apart from the one pharmacy in The Hague that makes its own oils, any production of cannabis oil also is illegal.

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The situation hasn't stopped Rinus Beintsema, 49, from starting what he calls a “medical social club” to connect patients, growers, and extractors. Beintsema started working in an Amsterdam coffeeshop around 1980, but he said he only discovered the medicinal properties of cannabis oil about three years ago. To his surprise, the father of one of his friends, who was suffering from severe arthritis, asked him to make cannabis oil. Beintsema had been doing it for years, but only for recreational purposes. 

The oil had almost instant effect. Within a week, his friend's father cut his medication in half. “It really opened my eyes,” Beintsema recalls. “I thought, Maybe those Americans are not con men, like I thought. About medical cannabis and dispensaries I used to actually think, They say they've hurt their finger so they can smoke a joint, you know? Like a disguised coffeeshop.”

Within weeks, ten more arthritis patients came to his door. So Beintsema started a Facebook group. “Everyone came running towards me. Before I knew it, I was providing 200 people with cannabis oil,” he recalled, “and this was all still from my attic at home.” 

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With a few friends he started Medical Social Club Friesland. In addition to making great cheese and dairy products, Friesland, a northern Dutch province, has a reputation for independence and stubbornness. In October 2015, the group opened an establishment in the provincial capital of Friesland, Leeuwarden, leading to a further increase in membership. “After three months, we upped the ante and invited local media to explain what we are doing,” Beintsema said. “From that moment on, the snowball really started rolling downhill."

The club now has a second branch, in the city of Groningen, and a third opening in Zwolle in July. “Every week, about eight kilograms of coconut oil extraction goes out the door,” said Beintsema. His aim is clear: a test trial, leading to full legalization of medical cannabis. 

“My strategy in this case is that [of] a bull in a china shop. You stir things up as much as you can and see where the ship will run aground,” he said. “And it's so far, so good, as they say. We're moving at top speed, and you have to keep that momentum going so they don't get a grip on you. 

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“Unfortunately we haven't seen or heard anything from the Justice Department,” he continued.

“We keep going one step further; I told one newspaper literally that we would like a confrontation, because it's part of the plan.”

Beintsema has met with the mayor of Leeuwarden, Ferd Crone, once. The mayor liked the concept, Beintsema said, but is worried about the concentrates the club offers. 

To stay within the limits of the Dutch cannabis policy, Beintsema has come up with a plan. He will start producing so-called Neder-Marok, a combination of a concentrate, Moroccan hash powder, and oil made of cannabis from Moroccan landrace strains. The finished product will be a piece of hash that can be mailed as long as it weighs no more than 5 grams, the maximum amount tolerated for personal use. After delivery, the hash can easily be turned into oil with the use of some alcohol and a coffee filter. “This is Neder-Marok, a hybrid that's the fruit of cooperation between Moroccan and Dutch growers,” he said. “We strongly believe that land races in the countries of origin have the highest medicinal value."

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An intervention by the Dutch authorities seems inevitable, but Beintsema and the members of Medical Social Club Suver Nuver are convinced the experiment will eventually lead to a breakthrough. The club will have a booth at Cannabis Liberation Day, the biggest cannabis event in the Netherlands, on June 12 in Amsterdam's Flevopark. 

“We've put together a nice team of volunteers and will share our booth with the 710 Crew from Denmark,” Beintsema said. “We're taking a bunch of e-nails and a big pile of wax. We'll be making some sweet smoke clouds over the park.”

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