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Netherlands prepares to launch pilot cannabis sales project

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Photo: DR | DrugFoundation.org.nz

Contrary to what many people think, cannabis is not yet legal in the Netherlands and the country is preparing for a significant milestone in its policy related to the sale of the plant. To the Dutch authorities revealed that the legalization project in the country is ready to enter its pilot phase before the end of 2023. Initially approved by the senate in 2019, the Wietexperiment, also known as the Weed Experiment, is ready to revolutionize the cannabis situation in the Netherlands. 

The basic concept behind Wietexperiment is to allow a selected group of growers to legally supply cannabis to coffee shops in ten cities spread across the Netherlands. Although Amsterdam may be known as a tourist spot with its famous coffee shops of cannabis, it is important to note that the sale and cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes has traditionally remained illegal outside of these authorized establishments.

'Back door' policy

Under the current legal framework, coffee shops are authorized to sell limited quantities of cannabis to consumers, but are subject to strict regulations. Namely, these establishments are prohibited from sourcing cannabis from suppliers, which gave rise to what became known as the “back door policy”.

Officially dubbed the “closed coffeeshop experience”, this initiative has two main objectives. First, it seeks to meticulously monitor the ramifications of implementing a regulated cannabis market across the country. Secondly, it seeks to mitigate potential criminal activities associated with the cannabis trade.

After several delays, a recent announcement from the Dutch parliament confirmed that the start-up phase of the Wietexperiment experiment will begin on December 15th, starting in the cities of Breda and Tilburg. During this initial phase, the coffee shops Participants will be allowed to sell both legally grown cannabis products and “tolerated” (unregulated) products. Two cultivators were selected to provide legal cannabis during this period.

The start-up phase is expected to last a maximum of six months, during which all developments will be closely monitored. This proactive approach aims to accumulate valuable experience regarding the supply chain system and associated processes.

Transition phase in 2024

After the start-up phase, a “transition phase” will follow. At this stage, all participating cities will have the green light to sell regulated cannabis products, in addition to those that fall into the “tolerated” category. The letter describing this phase clearly states that “developments during the start-up phase are monitored. If public order or security is seriously threatened, the start-up phase will be stopped prematurely. The results will be shared with all participating municipalities and used to improve processes and systems, with a view to a harmonious transition phase.”

It is anticipated that by the end of the first quarter of 2024, at best, all cities will be prepared to enter the transition phase. Furthermore, it is expected that the next two cannabis producers will begin supplying coffees from February this year.

Challenges for the Wietexperiment (or Weed Experiment) project

Although the Wietexperiment project is very promising, it is not without challenges. Initially, ten growers were selected to participate in the experiment, but one of them has already lost his license. Additionally, some growers have encountered logistical problems, such as difficulties in opening bank accounts. The government cited current uncertainty in growers' planning as a reason for the lack of clarity regarding the exact start date of the experiment.

The city of Amsterdam, an important player in the Dutch cannabis scene, expressed great interest in participating in the Wietexperiment project. Discussions are ongoing and a bill intended to amend the law and the decree relating to the closed network project coffee shops is currently in the Chamber of Deputies.

The cannabis legalization project in the Netherlands represents a crucial moment in the history of the country's drug policy. As it progresses through its phases, Wietexperiment will undoubtedly provide valuable information on the potential benefits and challenges of regulating the cannabis market in the Netherlands. Its success or failure could ultimately shape the future of cannabis policy not only in the Netherlands, but also in other parts of the world.

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