What about the coffeeshops?
If nobody is allowed to grow cannabis and sell it to coffeeshops, even if those shops are fully licensed, how do coffeeshops get their inventory? Ah! Now we are getting down to the nitty-gritty. You see, under the ‘policy of tolerance’ coffeeshops are allowed to have a maximum inventory of 500 grams of product on hand at any one time. As you can imagine, this isn’t nearly enough for most coffeeshops, seeing they cater to hundreds of customers a day.
So how do coffeeshops keep up with demand? In short: They have to fly under the radar. Dutch politicians and the media call it “Achterdeur Problematiek” or the “Back Door Problem”. Essentially coffeeshops have to get their product from illegal growers, which more often than not, are in the hands of criminal organizations. The distribution is done off the books and outside the letter of the law.
If you ask any coffeeshop owner about their supply chain, they will say there isn’t one, that their inventory just magically appears behind the counter. Evidently this is not the case, because Dutch media frequently reports about the crackdown on illegal weed plantations. Picture hundreds of perfectly good plants going through the shredder.
How did it get this far? Back to the beginning…
Around 1968, the opening of the first (unofficial) coffeeshop, Sarasani, in downtown Utrecht was one of a series of catalysts that forced the Dutch government to a decision on how to deal with the growing popularity of recreational cannabis. Because of the deep-seated desire for personal freedom and tolerance within Dutch culture, and the apparent failure of the American alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s, the Dutch government decided it would be wise to at least tolerate the sale and use of cannabis. Even though the use of cannabis was, and still is, officially illegal in the Netherlands.
This decision didn’t sit well with major players in the global community, particularly with the Netherland’s major allies like the US, the UK, France and Germany. It was international pressure that made the Dutch government refrain from any further talks of cannabis legalization and paved the way for what we now call a “Gedoogbeleid” or “Policy of Tolerance”. Roughly translated, government officials will turn a blind eye to the consumption of cannabis, as long as you buy and consume small amounts without being a nuisance.
The continuing pressure of international relations created a political climate that furthered the deterioration of the Dutch cannabis policy. To appease the international community, the Dutch government decreed that it would ramp up its enforcement policies throughout the early 90’s and 2000’s. This resulted in a crackdown on the cultivation of cannabis and the forced closure of a huge number of coffeeshops throughout the country.
To conclude this brief explanation
It is my fervent hope that when you read this article, (preferably while smoking a big fat blunt) you realize that even though the Dutch attitude towards cannabis might seem very liberal it’s far from ideal and leaves much to be desired. This has very little to do with the willingness for legalization but has more to do with international politics. Ironically it’s those same international politics that are now driving the discussion forward and provide a positive voice for change. So keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy our fine coffeeshops. Just don’t take them for granted.