The Dutch Paradox…
Whenever I speak to friends from other countries about our Dutch approach towards cannabis, I get a lot disbelieve and raised eyebrows. Because, hey.. the Netherlands, it’s the first country in the world to (at least after the Single Convention of Narcotics in 1961 that made cannabis an illegal substance) have a liberate attitude towards cannabis. Amsterdam, our capital, as the example of how legalization should look like: coffeeshops that can sell weed and people growing cannabis ‘legally’ at their homes. Right? No, wrong. We have quite a hypocritical, even schizophrenic attitude towards cannabis. Let me tell you why:
So, we do have this ‘gedoogbeleid’, or ‘ toleration policy’ when translated directly to English, that allows coffeeshops to have a maximum supply of 500grams of weed/hash at any given moment. If you run a good business however, your stock is sold within a (couple of days). So you need a good place to store your supplies somewhere outside of your shop to be able to continue serving your customers on a daily basis.
Cannabis takes about 3 months to grow and blossom. Then you harvest it and after harvesting the flowers need to dry and be weighed and packed. So, in order to guarantee a continuous stock so you can meet your customers’ needs, while at the same time taking into account a possible disappointing harvest, you should grow more than the max 500grams of flowers that you are allowed to sell at your shop. However, growing cannabis for commercial purposes is not allowed. And, setting up a grow facility takes time (besides all the risks you have to take) and costs money. All the equipment (for irrigation system, ventilation, lighting, insulation, etc) and the clones (varieties of cannabis directly taken from a mother plant) add up to a small fortune that gives you a return on investment only after let’s say 2-3 harvests. Besides being an illegal activity, you also risk loosing your whole investment should your garden be discovered by the authorities. And this happens quite often, making it nearly impossible for smaller growers to stay alive. This gives the perfect opportunity for bigger, often criminal (someone please determine ‘criminal’ ?!) organizations to take over a part of the supply chain. If you can not grow it, where does your supply have to come from?
Tolerant or not, this is a front and back door policy!
Because of this front- and back door, the Dutch government decided to launch an experiment; the ‘Wiet experiment’. This way, the whole production chain, from grower to consumer, is regulated. Sounds interesting right? Yet there are only a few cities taking part in this experiment. And only a few growers that have to supply the coffeeshops in those cities. The growers are only allowed to grow a limited amount of cannabis and coffeeshops are not able to sell hashish anymore.
So.. while the backdoor appears to be closed, it looks like the door is still ajar…
So how about growing hemp at home?
Now let me get one thing straight. It is not that because you are ‘ allowed’ to grow hemp (or THC rich cannabis?) on your balcony, it does not mean it is legal. If you have 5 plants with THC rich cannabis at home, you will not get fined or get a criminal record. Hemp is NOT (fully) legal in the Netherlands. A lot of things are allowed, but we just do not have the right backbone to make a proper decision and approach towards our hemp policy. A cop can still come to your home and take away all your plants. Now please do not get smart and try to grow industrial hemp. It was already tried by the CBD project, back in 2016.. The people behind this project send industrial hemp seeds (from the Finola race) to your home, together with a letter to the local authorities. Yet to be able to grow hemp you have to be able to prove you will cultivate for the production of fibre solely. You have to report your desire to grow hemp to the RVO (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland / Dutch Enterprise Agency) first, or apply for an ‘ exception to the Dutch Opium Law’, for scientific purposes for example.. Fun fact: the Dutch policy have a special department called ‘ Hemp Team’. In my years of researching cannabis (policy), I have met many of the agents working for this special department. The limited knowledge about the differences between for example industrial hemp and weed surprised (and even shocked!) me…!
How about medicinal cannabis?
Well, we launched a medicinal cannabis back in 2003 (yes, almost 2 decades ago). There is a very interesting story to tell about how this company got its license (and the other companies’ contracts were just ‘cancelled’, after literally stealing all their plants first… but this is for another time). Up until now there is just one company in the Netherlands allowed to grow and produce medicinal cannabis (meaning cannabis that is of ‘ pharmaceutical quality’). In fact, this is a monopoly. Isn’t this illegal? Also, we only have 5 varieties / cultivars of cannabis available for patients. If you understand the abundance of cannabis varieties (each with their own profile of cannabinoids and terpenoids), and you understand that each variety differs in its effect on the body and brain, having just 5 varieties available for patients is far from enough.
By the way… did you know it were the Dutch coffeeshops that were serving patients far before medicinal cannabis became available in our country? It was cannabis pioneer Wernard Bruining (owner of Amsterdams first coffeeshop Mellow Yellow) that put together the ‘mediwiet dossier’, a thick bundle full of information about the health benefits of cannabis. Coffeeshops could become a member of Mediwiet for 500 guilders (about 200 euro), for which they received the file with information and a poster/sticker they could attach to their window so customers/patients would know they were participating. In return, patients could go to their doctors and have them sign a statement explaining their ailment/disease. With this ‘ prescription’, the patient could now go to one of the participating coffeeshops and purchase weed at a 50% discount.
In 2017 the insurance companies decided to no longer reimburse medical cannabis… and the Dutch association of doctors (NHG) is actually quite negative about prescribing cannabis in general..
So, how about industrial hemp?
Well, this is where it get’s even more interesting. You see, ever since the 1990’s we are allowed to grow industrial hemp in our country. The European Commission gave its permission to grow about 80 different hemp cultivars and in the Netherlands we are allowed to grow about 50 of them if we comply to all rules and regulations. So far, We are only allowed to grow hemp if in full open (outdoor only) soil, and only to produce fibre. No, we are not allowed to grow hemp seeds, unless we can prove that the seeds are harvested to produce again fibre.
But.. seeds are healthy!!?
Yes they are. And they are for sale in the Dutch Albert Heijn supermarket, for example. Yet we are not allowed to produce them ourselves.. so they should come from other European countries or even from China.
We miss a lot of economic potential because of this: hemp seeds can be produced for consumption. You can eat them hulled or unhulled and after pressing the seeds, you will have hempseedoil. The cake that is left behind after pressing can also be used (didnt I tell you hemp has no waste whatsoever? ): after sifting it you will have hemp flower and hemp protein powder. The hempseed oil an also be used as a key ingredient in industrial products or cosmetics. Hempseeds are produced by the female flowers (yes, also industrial hemp has both female and male plants!) after pollination.
So, how about the flowers?
Now this is where it get’s even crazier. You see, Dutch hemp producers are not allowed to harvest the hemp flowers. As a matter of fact, the flowers are more or less illegal parts of a legally grown crop. Now you might have heard that CBD oil, in the Netherlands available as a food supplement, is derived from extracts made from hemp flowers. Making extracts of hemp flowers is not allowed in the Netherlands. However, a Dutch hemp farmer can still sell his hemp flowers as ‘ feed for cattle’ or ‘waste’ and have it exported to let’s say Germany. In Germany, where hemp flower extraction IS allowed, an extract can be made with this ‘ feed/waste’. This extract can now be imported back again into the Netherlands that produced the flower this extract comes from in the place!
Et voila: the front and back door of CBD…
Crazy, isn’t it. It can get crazier even still. Recently, a press release was published, telling that our government is now reviewing the agricultural policy for the cultivation of hemp. And not in a progressive, positive way.. While we still grow only 2000 hectares of hemp in the Netherlands (very little, compared to for example 180.000 hectares of grain) it was important to find ways to make cultivating hemp more attractive to farmers. The current CAP rules (CAP stands for Common Agricultural Policy of the EU) classifies hemp as a ‘greening crop’, because (as we all now by now) hemp needs no pesticides and fertilizers whatsoever. It is good for the soil and the environment overall. Growing a greening crop means an extra allowance of 150 euro per hectare. To a lot of farmers, this also made cultivation of industrial hemp more attractive.
But no more.. at least, that is the plan for 2023…
Another disadvantage of these new regulations is that farmers need to take hemp of their fields BEFORE the 1st of October. Which is absolutely insane! First of all, we have only a very short summertime, allowing hemp to grow and flourish between May and September. For the production of good quality fibre however, it is necessary to leave the hemp stalks on the field after harvesting it. This is needed so a rotting process can take place (in Dutch: ‘roten’). This rotting process is caused by the dew on the field and is essential for the quality of the fibre. The outside of the stem contains fibre, the inner side contains wood. In order to seperate the fibre from the wooden parts, rotting should take place. If not, this has a very bad effect on the quality. And that is once again not good for business!
In stead of taking things forward, launching these silly rules means two steps back..
Hemp farmers are already facing a lot of difficulties in the Netherlands. There often is misunderstanding about growing hemp, being mistaken for drugs. Banks or payment service providers that no longer want to service you because they ‘discovered’ (as if you were hiding it in the first place…!) that you are running a hemp business. At the same time, there is little demand for hemp (mainly because of misunderstanding!) so about 70-90% of their production is being exported.
I hope this article shows you that we in the Netherlands are far from proper cannabis legislation that serves both the Dutch people as the Dutch treasury… even after years and years of cannabis activism, we have a long long way to go..
Please share this article with every policy maker you know. Let’s get the discussion started and let’s get hemp back in business!
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