This cannabis country report Netherlands serves as an introduction to potential cannabis growers in the Netherlands on how to legally grow cannabis and how to get a cannabis license. This information is relevant to all growers. The information was correct at the time of publication.
Netherlands – the cannabis country?
Cannabis was smoked widely in the Netherlands in the 17th century. This is proven in a painting by Flemish artist Adriaen Brouwer, which shows a man with an ale tankard in one hand and a pipe in the other. In these times, those who smoked cannabis were called ‘toeback-drinckers’. Cannabis was first criminalised in the Netherlands in 1953, following earlier laws against its import and export in 1928.
Cannabis has been decriminalized in the Netherlands since 1976.
Unlike many other countries, Dutch drug law distinguishes between soft drugs and hard drugs. Cannabis is listed under the soft drugs category which means that use, possession and trade are forbidden, but tolerated.
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is not legal in The Netherland, merely decriminalised with lots of restrictions of its usage, growing and distribution. So, while it is legal to smoke it in designated areas, growing more than five plants is prosecutable. This has basically forced coffee shops to buy unlawfully grown cannabis putting the power in the hands of criminal cartels. It has also led to illegal growing operations that takes a lot of police work to counter act. This means that cannabis arrives, untaxed and illegally at the back door of the coffee shop and becomes legal and income taxable, by being consumed there.
There have been some notable court cases regarding cannabis cultivation. An interesting case study is that of two farmers, who were arrested in 2014. The court ruled that although they had violated the law by growing 2,500 cannabis plants, they would not be punished.
To justify the decision, the judge pointed out that the two farmers grew the cannabis plants in a safe and responsible manner, in accordance with the Dutch policy of tolerance. This was a landmark case, signifying a shift in attitude towards cannabis cultivation in the country.
Medical cannabis & hemp
The Netherlands became the world’s first country to make cannabis available as a prescription drug in pharmacies to treat cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis patients
The use of medicinal cannabis has been allowed in the Netherlands since 2003. Patients have access to medicinal cannabis through their pharmacies, provided they have a prescription. Cannabis can also be obtained from coffee shops since sale and possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use is tolerated. However, the quality of medicinal cannabis obtained through pharmacies is better protected since it is subject to strict regulations.
It is legally permitted in the Netherlands to cultivate, import and sell industrial hemp as long as the hemp is intended for fibre production or seed production for fibre varieties. According to European guidelines, the cannabis variety must be listed in the plant variety database and the THC level cannot exceed 0.2%. There are no requirements regarding the CBD level.
The agency behind & criminality
Since 1 January 2001 the Office of Medicinal Cannabis (OMC) has been the government agency responsible for implementing the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It is also responsible for overseeing the production of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes.
The OMC has a monopoly on supplying medicinal cannabis to pharmacies, and on its import and export. The OMC also processes applications for exemptions from the Opium Act relating to cannabis and cannabis resin. If you are interested in doing cannabis research, they are also the people to talk to.
Over and above all this, there has been an increase in the criminality perpetuated by the hard drug gangs as is seen by the murder of investigative journalist, Pieter de Vries, the death of a drug trial lawyer and the discovery of torture chambers used by the drug cartels. Things got so hectic that the official Police Union, Politie Bond used the term “narco-state” when discussing the situation in The Netherlands.
If all of this sounds very confusing to you, rest assured that you are not the only one. When the Dutch government decided to start pulling all legislation with regards to cannabis in line, The Irish Times ran with the headline “High time: Netherlands moves to clean up absurd cannabis policy”.
Closed Coffeeshop Chain Experiment
In 2020, the government accepted applications from companies wishing to cultivate recreational cannabis, as part of a pilot scheme.
The “Closed Coffeeshop Chain experiment” is being conducted to see how growers can legally supply quality-controlled cannabis to coffeeshops, throughout ten selected municipalities. The cannabis used in this experiment should be cultivated and controlled in a licit regulated market instead of in an illicit market controlled/prohibited by criminal law. The aim of the experiment is to ascertain whether or not it is possible to regulate a quality-controlled supply of cannabis to coffee shops and to study the effects of a regulated supply chain on crime, safety, public nuisance and public health.
The Minister for Medical Care and Sport and the Minister of Justice and Security are responsible for ensuring that the experiment is implemented and for drafting relevant new legislation. The experiment is expected to last at least 4 years, with the possibility of a year and a half extension. By the end of the July deadline, 149 businesses had applied. By December 2020 the government selected 10 cannabis growers to take part in its experiment with regulated cannabis cultivation. The ten growers then had to pass an integrity investigation. The 10 growers were selected from the passed applications based on a random lottery draw. The others were placed on a waiting list. Should any of the first 10 fail the integrity investigation, the next person on the list will be investigated.
The Council of State, the government’s highest advisory body, warns that, as it stands, the pilot will not be broadly based enough to allow any hard and fast policy conclusions to be drawn from its findings.
How to get a license
Applicants for a cannabis growing license need to adhere to the following rules:
- Bibob check. If a public authority investigates your company’s integrity this is called a Bibob check (Bibob-toets). You will have to fill in a Bibob questionnaire (Bibob-vragenformulier, in Dutch) for this purpose. A municipality can for instance request information with the police, judiciary, or the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (Belastingdienst). You have 14 days to send in the completed form. The public authority will then use the details submitted to assess the integrity of your company or the people involved in your company. A Bibob screening takes 8 weeks. If the government body has not completed the screening by then, another 4 weeks will be added.
- The applicant’s business plan
- How and under what conditions the production of the hemp or hashish and the continuous delivery thereof to coffee shop owners will take place.
- How much hemp or hashish and how many variations of hemp or hash he expects to be able to produce at the start of the experiment.
- The business plan is provided with the applicant’s details and the address details of the relevant location or locations or intended location or locations where the production of the hemp or hashish will take place.
- The layout of the location or locations where the production of the hemp or hashish will take place and of the spaces to be put into use, partly on the basis of an attached floor plan, with special attention to security.
- The manner in which and the conditions under which the production of the hemp or hashish will take place, including the cultivation setup and measures as well as the risks associated with the production and measures to be able to control those risks.
- The method of processing, storage and removal of the waste of the plant material.
- The aspects considered important for the transport or delivery of the hemp or hashish and, insofar as is already known, the party that he expects to engage for the transport to coffee shop owners and possibly between his location or locations.
- The applicant’s experience and knowledge with the cultivation and further processing of crop.
- The stock of hemp or hashish to be kept at the location or locations, whether or not already sold to coffee shop owners, and the way in which that stock is stored.
- The manner in which and the conditions under which the overall business operations will take place as well as the risks associated with the business operations and measures to be able to control those risks, including the measures to be taken to protect the location, the hemp or hashish and the waste of the plant material and other measures to prevent the risk of the hemp or hashish leaking out.
- The measures that he will take in order to be able to meet the quality requirements, measures to prevent and control diseases and pests and measures to guarantee hygiene.
- The measures that he will take to be able to determine the THC and CBD content of the hemp or hashish and to have it checked whether the hemp or hashish meets the quality requirements.
- The way in which he can respond to the demand of coffee shop owners and the way in which he can enable them to have the hemp or hashish assessed.
- The way in which the business administration will be organized.
- A request can be made for one or more locations.
Dutch law determines that if you break any of these rules, or are unable to meet the requirements, you cannot legally grow. It further also requires that:
- An appointment as a grower is subject to the requirement that the production of hemp or hashish, with a view to its quality, complies with the provisions of or pursuant to the Plant Protection Products and Biocides Act.
Applicants may be either natural or legal persons and as a final rule: the mayor of the town where you want to grow may shoot down your application if he or she decides you are a dodgy character.
Do you have any questions on the regulatory framework in the Netherlands? Contact us!