Photo: Getty Images/Jasper Junien
Ivo Opstelten, Holland’s justice minister, has informed the Dutch parliament to set out a major rethink of the country’s liberal policy on soft drugs which allows cannabis to sold and smoked in specially licenced cafés or “coffee shops”.He cited a government study that found that marijuana containing more than 15 per cent of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive drug naturally occurring in cannabis, is so dangerous it should be classed alongside heroin and cocaine.
“Hard drugs have no place in the coffee shops and in the future they will only be able to offer cannabis with a THC level of below 15 per cent,” he told MPs.
The Netherlands has around 500 cannabis cafes where people can buy up to five grammes (0.18 ounces) of marijuana for their personal use.
THC is the chemical compound in marijuana which gives users a “high” and in the large quantities found in specially hybridised cannabis plants it has been blamed for causing addiction and psychotic reactions.
The decision to “quickly” ban strong cannabis will be a major blow to the country’s cannabis cafés because around 80 per cent of the marijuana sold is grown in the Netherlands has a THC content of between 15 and 18 per cent.
Mark Josemans, the spokesman for the Maastricht coffee shop owners association, accused the Dutch government of pushing cannabis users into the arms of illegal drugs dealers and compared strong marijuana to rum, a distilled alcohol that drinkers do not consume like beer.
“Weak weed in the coffee shops, strong weed on the streets – then the choice is pretty clear. It makes it harder for society,” he told the Volkskrant newspaper. “A user smokes less, just as people don’t drink rum out of a beer glass.”
The government is acting on research by the Trimbos Institute, a Dutch mental health charity, last year which found that the popularity of the strong hybrid cannabis, developed and grown in Holland, is pushing out milder imported marijuana.
“Buyers ask for the most popular and the strongest weed,” it concluded.
The ban on strong cannabis in the Netherlands, the country that pioneered the liberal approach, come less than three weeks after voters in the US states of Colorado and Washington approved measures that legalise marijuana use.
The Dutch decision to be tougher on cannabis also came as Jacqui Smith, the former Labour home secretary, admitted that her decision to upgrade cannabis to a Class B drug was a mistake, arguing that education would have been a better option than a higher level of criminalisation.
When announcing the ban, Mr Opstelten relaxed a mandatory plan announced earlier for membership scheme involving a “wietpas” or weed-pass that would prevent foreigners buying cannabis in coffee shops.
It will be up to local authorities to decide how to introduce new rules allowing Amsterdam’s 220 cannabis cafes to continue sales to the estimated 1.5 million tourists who use them every year.
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