Dutch courage! Coffee shops cutting off illegal supplies

The Netherlands has been a trailblazer in terms of cannabis legalisation over the past few decades, it was first introduced in the 1970s for the purpose of attempting to keep hard and soft drugs separated.

Although considered by some to be a
more unsophisticated part of the many leisurely activities found within the
Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products served in small quantities is legal
within licensed coffee shops across the country under the country’s drug
policy
.

The government recognise the
inevitability of people continuing to use substances, therefore allowing the
sale and use of a small amount of drugs considered soft or having a low risk of
harm and addiction. This means the authorities can focus their attention on big
criminals profiting and supplying hard drugs.

Drug
tourism
’ or travelling for the purpose to use
drugs recreationally, means that the Netherlands hosts a huge number of
tourists, bringing millions of euros into the Dutch economy each year
exclusively due to the coffee shop culture.

Nonetheless, there are still several issues to do with the cultivation, distribution and the supply chain of cannabis.

Murky underworld

Currently, although it’s legal for
coffee shops to sell cannabis, it is still completely illegal to produce and
supply the plant. This means there is still the murky criminal underworld
profiting off the back of cannabis tourism.

The Dutch government has plans to
tackle the illegal drugs black market by producing its own and supplying coffee
shops with regulated cannabis.

It only takes a quick look at reviews
online to see the plethora of negative comments about the standard of cannabis
in Amsterdam coffee shops. Many reviews claim that the weed being sold is ‘sprayed’
and ‘full of contaminants’, which can be potentially harmful to users.  

Now, cannabis cafes in 10 cities will
get a legal supply of cannabis as a part of a four-year experiment starting in
2021. The stipulation being all shops within the particular cities must
immediately abandon their illegal suppliers.

Interestingly, The Hague, Amsterdam,
Utrecht and Rotterdam will not take part in the scheme as their business still
heavily depends on the illegal production line, but the experiment could tempt
the major cities away from the criminal world if it goes well.

Amsterdam in particular houses almost
170 cannabis-based coffee shops, with the city mayor warning of the dangers if
all 170 buyers suddenly abandoned their illegal supplies immediately, and the
chairman of the VOC group promoting cannabis – Derrick Bergman –stating
the trial is “way too little, way too late”.

While the Dutch recreational cannabis industry is expected to be worth a billion euros by 2028, some citizens fear that enabling domestic growers to cultivate their own supply of plants will lead the country into ‘narco state’ standing, where the country depends on the illicit drugs trade.

Dope Man

Released in 2006, the then
conservative mayor of Maastricht Gerd Leers featured in an angsty punk song
called ‘Dope Man
– a protest track taking aim at the country’s liberal drug policy and the
contradiction of tolerated cannabis use but prohibited cultivation.

Leers raps “My name is Gerd Leers, mayor of Maastricht, less kids on pot, I feel
this is my duty, they buy 8000 kg a year here, because more than a million
tourists really come for this, we don’t have control over illegal growers, banning
it doesn’t help, there is no law against plants”.

His last verse raps about control of
the plant and how they can “set rules for the
strength of the stuff, clear policy, that’s what you can work with, just
put the rule to the test and we’ll see”, alongside the band’s prominent
statement of “smoking weed is forbidden but we
allow it, a coffee shop may sell weed, but where does it come from… don’t
ask how!”

Speaking to NRC Handelsblad in 2008,
Max Daniel, the head of the Netherlands organised crime unit expressed his
worries on “the policy of allowing shops to sell their supplies via the
front door but not buy via the back door has created a grey area that is, by
definition, good for doing business”.

He states that while some of the
cannabis sold within coffee shops is imported, illegal production continues in
secret within the Netherlands as demand from foreign countries for the infamous
Dutch cannabis can net the sellers “three or four times the Dutch price”.

After illegal growers get busted, the supply chain slowly dwindles resulting in the prices of cannabis rising and sellers finding dodgy ways to make back the financial losses they experience because of this process.

Iron filings

In order to cash in on the hefty
demand for Dutch cannabis, greedy suppliers have been found to add toxic
fillers to bulk out their weed shipment, adding iron filings or sand to
increase the weights, a process only detected previously within cocaine and
heroin shipments.

Civil rights activist for weed users
and well known organic cannabis grower, Doede de Jong claimed
during an interview that a coffee shop owner who purchased cannabis from an
illegal weed producer found the cannabis to be soaked in liquid lead. This
process enables the cannabis cultivators to turn 30 kilos of plant into 50
kilos, thus increasing their monetary yield.

The lack of regulation has also seen
the average price of the cannabis increase in recent years while the quality of
the flower has deteriorated, which could potentially lead users to increased
risk of health issues.

The overall extent of the financial
criminal impact on the Netherlands cannabis market is hard to gauge, however
the last reported
earnings of criminal drugs organisations involved in the supplying aspects
alone is suspected to net between 21 to 42 million euros in untaxed annual
profit.

Overall, this hazy predicament leaves
the Dutch government with few options, completely get rid of all coffee shops
that have become an icon of the liberal stance the Netherlands holds on soft
drugs, or bring into place official regulation for the cultivation and supply
of cannabis, enabling the country to benefit from the profitable nature of the
industry and bring back the quality of the plant sold within its businesses.

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