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  • Writer's pictureChuka Nwanazia

The Drug Policy of Amsterdam and the Netherlands

Cannabis in Amsterdam Coffeeshops and Other Parts of the Netherlands

Coffeeshop in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Drugs Policy


It is no secret that the Netherlands is generally seen as much more tolerant of drugs than most other countries. A coffeeshop in other parts of the world would definitely have something to do with coffee beans and the very popular beverage by the same name. In Amsterdam, coffeeshops are commercial establishments where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities.

Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, one must understand that cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands but tolerated for personal use only.

So how did the Netherlands get to a point where she tolerates the sale and use of cannabis?

Let's find out.


While the use of cannabis/weed/marijuana may attract a lot of visitors to the Netherlands every year, it is very important to note that marijuana wasn't always legal or tolerated in any way of form. Cannabis was first made illegal in the Netherlands in 1953, after laws were put in place against its import and export in 1928. The Netherlands weren't so fond of it, so they also made moves to criminalised it in the Dutch colonies of Suriname and Indonesia.

In 1972, the Dutch government divided drugs into soft and hard drugs categories, with cannabis falling into the soft drugs category. Soft drugs include hash, marijuana, sleeping pills and sedatives, while hard drugs include heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, LSD and ecstasy. Subsequently, possession of 30 grams or less was made a misdemeanour. A few years later, cannabis was allowed to be sold and used in coffeeshops all around the country.

In the Netherlands, it is common knowledge that a drug-free Dutch society is unrealistic and unattainable, and efforts would be better spent trying to minimise harm caused by recreational drug use than fighting it. To this regard, it was only reasonable to decriminalise cannabis and other soft drugs. In contrast to countries where cannabis is illegal - like the U.S., the Netherlands understands that making cannabis illegal would not stop people from using it and it's only better for everyone if the people who love using it are allowed to do so in a safe place, hence the coffeeshops.

Despite tolerating the sale of soft drugs in coffeeshops, its production and cultivation is heavily frowned upon and punishable by law. Up to five plants at home is “tolerated,” but cultivation on a professional level can get a person in serious trouble. This has heavily been criticised by coffeeshop owners and recently, the newly formed coalition in The Hague announced that they would seek to implement an 'experimental' new system in certain cities where coffeeshops could legally purchase weed from a state-appointed producer.

Benefits of the legalisation of Cannabis in the Netherlands

Amsterdam Coffeeshops

The decriminalisation of cannabis hasn't been all 'roses and sunshine' and despite posing a few 'headaches' for the governing bodies, it has also given birth to a couple of benefits. Decriminalisation does not mean that people can use drugs with impunity or irresponsibly without conscience. Instead it means that possessing small amounts no longer lands the user with a criminal record or a jail sentence. By contrast, legalisation means that consumers face no penalty at all. More importantly, if the Netherlands would want to consider full legalisation, then it means that the supply side of the business - cultivation, transportation and the likes must also be legalised.

It must be understood that the prohibition of cannabis in the Netherlands gave a lot of power to organised crime bodies who sought to use the prohibition as a golden opportunity to illegally sell diluted and unsafe cannabis to both the populace and tourists. They gained considerable power in some major cities as a results and the richer they got, the more sophisticated their methods of operation became - which made it more difficult to track them down and put a stop to their whole operation. By decriminalising cannabis, the government has been able to take away power from these crime syndicates, provide both the populace and visitors with a safe and comfortable environment to use cannabis, regulate its use and succeeded in providing a source of income for coffeeshop owners, which has also stimulated the economy.

Medical Use (The Office for Medicinal Cannabis)

While provisions have been made for the recreational use of marijuana, its medical use is also much talked about. There has been a legal prescription drug known as "Mediwiet" in the Netherlands since 2003 and this is available at all Dutch pharmacies across the country since September 1 of the same year. Medicinal marijuana is regulated and controlled by The Office for Medicinal Cannabis. The OMC is the government organisation responsible for the production of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. The Netherlands is the first country in the world to supply medicinal marijuana in pharmacies and this is prescribed for patients only when there is no other alternative. There are five different strains of medicinal cannabis (Bedrobinol, Bedrocan, Bediol, Bedica and Bedrolite) and the effects of using any specific type may differ from person to person. For that reason, each patient is required to find out what variety of medicinal cannabis best suits his/her needs.

What is the Weed Pass and How Can One Purchase Weed in Amsterdam and Other Parts of the Netherlands?

Due to irresponsible behaviour by tourists who visit the Netherlands for the purpose of smoking weed, The Weed Pass was introduced in various cities across the Netherlands. This meant that coffeeshops couldn't sell weed to tourists anymore. While Amsterdam has been exempted from taking part in this law as long as the mayor closes all coffeeshops located within 250 meters of a school, coffeeshops in Maastricht are only allowed to sell weed to residents. Mild use of weed is allowed but heavy use and subsequent irresponsible behaviour is generally frowned upon.​

Purchasing Marijuana in Amsterdam and other parts of the Netherlands isn't really difficult. Weed can be bought over the counter and please don't ever buy on the streets. Many coffeeshops understand that more than 50% of their customers are tourists so they make sure to have their menus in English - which informs the customers about the various kinds of weed they have. If you're in a hurry and/or don't want to roll your own joint, they also sell pre-rolled joints.

What is legal and what is not?

For weed enthusiasts, it is definitely fun to visit Amsterdam and sit down in coffeeshops to sample the different kinds of weed available. While this may be one of the main reasons why tourists pour into Dutch cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Haarlem etc., it must also be understood that there are rules to abide by. The Netherlands may be a tolerant country that prides herself as hospitable and welcoming, it is also a nation of laws and laws are meant to be obeyed.

For a city like Amsterdam, tourists must understand that not every Amsterdam inhabitant smokes weed or likes the smell of weed. It is therefore, very inconsiderate to smoke weed in public places especially when they are crowded. Buying weed for a group of minors is generally frowned upon and can land you in jail if caught and selling weed on the streets or anywhere close to a school is also against the law.

So what is legal and what is not?

  • Possession of a soft drug for personal use in quantities below a certain threshold (5 grams of cannabis or 5 cannabis plants) is tolerated, but larger quantities or possession of hard drugs may lead to prosecution.

  • Production and cultivation of weed is illegal.

  • Use of cannabis in public spaces is illegal.

  • Selling of cannabis in places other than coffeeshops is not allowed.

  • Weed can't be bought by people under the age of 18 and it is seriously frowned upon when adults help a group of minors to purchase weed from a coffeeshop.

  • While cannabis may be tolerated in the Netherlands, it is still illegal and can sometimes be confiscated by the authorities, especially if the person in possession is under the influence or it exceeds the designated amount allowed by the authorities or if the person is a minor.

  • Alcohol is not permitted in coffeeshops - only beverages, soft drinks and snacks.


I'd suggest that we all stay away from drugs, but the reality is that not everyone will listen. For weed lovers who come to Amsterdam for the culture and fun, it is very important to buy your weed from coffeeshops and coffeeshops only. Please don't ever buy weed from dealers who sell on the streets no matter how cheap their drugs may be.

And please don't try the hallucinogenic mushrooms. These are poisonous as you may be exposing yourself to very serious health risks by using them in any form. It is important to know that their effects on each human organism is different so don't be so quick to try just because your buddies tried them.

Soft drugs can also be dangerous and if you must use them, please be responsible!

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