Dutch municipalities advance in government-proposed 'weed experiment'

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By Emma Beswick
Dutch municipalities advance in government-proposed 'weed experiment'

A "weed experiment" that could see cannabis that has been grown legally and tested for quality to be sold in Dutch "coffee shops" has moved one step closer to fruition, the country's health ministry has said.

The Netherlands has a tolerance policy for marijuana, which means while the distribution, supply and production of the drug are illegal, coffee shops are not prosecuted for selling it.

This, however, means the stores buy cannabis illegally and thus it is often of unknown quality.

Today, cannabis is sold openly in 573 coffee shops, operating in 103 of the 380 municipalities in the Netherlands, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) —one of the EU’s decentralised agencies.

The Dutch government declared its intention to permit a four-year experiment on the legal supply of cannabis to coffee shops in 2017, to be carried out in up to ten medium to large-sized municipalities.

It aims to examine the impacts of the move on public health, crime, public safety and nuisance.

It announced on Thursday that the municipalities that might take part in the weed experiment had been identified.

"The interpretation of the closed coffee shop chain experiment is being worked out with the following ten nominated municipalities: Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Hellevoetsluis, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Zaanstad," the Dutch health ministry wrote on its website.

A draft law, required to allow deviation from the country's drug control act, is currently being considered by the nation's upper house of parliament.

Interest in the area of cannabis legalisation in Europe is growing, prompted by international developments in the ways in which countries are now regulating the substance.

Euronews spoke to Luxembourg Health Minister Étienne Schneider in early August as the country stepped up preparations for new legislation to fully legalise recreational cannabis.

"After decades of repressive policies, we have acknowledged that this policy does not work, that it did not meet expectations. So it's time to change mindsets, change our concepts and try something else," he said.

Read more: 'Time to try something else': Luxembourg official tells Euronews on cannabis legalisation

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Europe and it is also the drug about which both public attitudes and the political debate are most polarised, according to the EMCDDA.

In the Netherlands, an estimated 16.1 % of young adults said they had used cannabis in the last year, compared to 13.3 % in Germany, 10.1 % in Belgium and 22.1 % in France, the agency said.