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NL: Manifest of 30 years of toleration full version

The existence of coffee shops does NOT lead to a rise in demand

99% of consumers do NOT show problematic use

An increase in the THC level only barely leads to more risk


In 1976, the Opium act was changed. It established a new different view of cannabis in the Netherlands. Today, this view is known as the toleration policy. Meanwhile, the toleration of cannabis has already existed for 30 years. Much has changed in these 30 years. Today, in the year 2006, cannabis products are sold and tolerated in coffee shops, the client is not considered a criminal any longer, and the production of cannabis takes place in the Netherlands for the most part.

Despite a large interest in the toleration policy both within as well as outside the Netherlands, it has never been researched whether the goals (separation of markets and decriminalization of cannabis consumers) have been reached, and what the contribution has been from the coffee shops.

The founders of this ‘Manifest of 30 years of toleration’ have been closely involved in the policy on cannabis due to their positions at organizations and institutes involved in cannabis or from their work in coffee shops. They call upon the government to broadly evaluate the consequences of 30 years of toleration. After this, further steps can be considered in a business-like and fact-focused manner. This evaluation can be a first step toward acting in a more effective way against certain excesses of the toleration policy and to deal with cannabis in a more realistic and pragmatic way.

The founders will each within their own responsibility and influence, put their efforts forth toward clarifying the contents of this manifest.

On behalf of the founders,

Nicole Maalsté

Myranda Bruin

Ronald Motta

Marc Josemans

The Hague, 18 October 2006

short history

Thirty years ago, on October 18, 1976, the foundation for the current toleration policy was formed by placing cannabis on List 2 of the Opium act in the Netherlands. By the act of November 1, 1976 (Judicial Code 425) the Opium act of 1928 was altered dramatically. One of the most prominent adjustments was that although the possession of, and the inland trade in, hemp was still punishable, it was no longer considered a crime - but an offence instead - in the case of small amounts (no more than 30 grams). The goal was to separate the narcotics markets with a so called acceptable risk from those markets with an unacceptable risk. This is popularly called the separation of soft and hard drugs. The ratio behind this separation is that the government wants to prevent consumers from coming into contact with other narcotics while purchasing cannabis (soft drugs). In practice this means that cannabis has a lower detection priority and that sales are tolerated under strict conditions. A second goal was to decriminalize the cannabis consumer.

From the guidelines of the detection and prosecution policy in reference to punishable facts for the Opium act, Judicial Code 1980 no. 137 proves that initially only the home dealer was tolerated. House dealers were considered those traders in hemp that, with the trust and under protection of the staff of a youth center, and with the exclusion of others, were provided with the opportunity to sell hemp products at that youth center. Only in cases where the house dealer publicly advertised in one way or another or would trade in a provocative way, would criminal prosecution take place in consultation with the local government. Soon thereafter the trade in cannabis moved from youth centers to coffee shops. These cases were left in peace due to the limited tracing priority for cannabis, but without a formally settled toleration policy. The coffee shops themselves set up rules that the customers had to follow, the so called house rules that later formed the foundation of the national toleration policy. In December 1991, the AHOJG policy (no advertisements, no hard drugs, no nuisances, no sales to persons under the age of 18, and a maximum amount of 5 grams) was established as a national policy by the Board of Procurators General. This guideline was not published in the Government Gazette until October 21, 1994 (no. 203).

This created the unique situation in the Netherlands that cannabis was permitted for sale in coffee shops that had a special ‘toleration license’.

M a n i f e s t

Cannabis is on a global scale the most commonly used illegal drug. It is, after alcohol, even the widest spread drug, which cannabis, therefore has a rich history of applications. The use of mind altering substances was found in India in 500 AD, thereafter the use of cannabis spread to Europe, Northern Africa, and later to the Americas.

Two million Dutch men have at sometime in their life smoked a joint
- The use of cannabis is not limited to a certain kind of people and the use takes place in all strata of society. It varies from adolescents that experiment to middle aged consumers to people with medical illnesses such as: cancer, MS, or AIDS. In the Netherlands alone, over two million people have tried cannabis. There are 408,000 actual users and 78,000 daily users. The starting age is around the age of thirteen, which has stabilized since 1996. Cannabis is mostly used from the ages 20 to 24.

99% of consumers do NOT show problematic use
- For most people, the use of cannabis is not related to (severe) health injuries. The ‘Coördinatiepunt Assessment en Monitoring Nieuwe Drugs (CAM), a commission that advises the government on harmful substances, states that ‘there are no arguments to consider cannabis as a harmful drug’ and that the consequences of the use of cannabis is less serious in many points than the use of alcohol or tobacco. The majority of consumers’ experiences display only positive effects, in which their usage is under control. Cannabis is, in comparison with other illegal drugs, mildly addictive. Nevertheless, the use of cannabis can also bring some risks. Although there is no accepted definition (yet) of problematic cannabis use , research tells us that 0.3 to 0.8% of users can be considered problematic users according to the DSM-III-r.

The existence of coffee shops does NOT lead to a rise in demand
- Although cannabis is available in coffee shops in the Netherlands, both the number of actual consumers as the number of ‘some-time users’ is not extremely high. For comparison: In France, Spain, the United States, and Australia, respectively 8, 10, 11, and 13% of the population used cannabis; in the Netherlands this is only 6% This means that the availability of cannabis via coffee shops does not determine the extent of use. This discredits the assumption that the availability of coffee shops creates a demand for soft drugs.

Half of the consumers do NOT buy cannabis in a coffee shop
- Cannabis is not only available in coffee shops. About half of the consumers of 18 years of age or older purchases their cannabis from coffee shops (47%)3 The other half purchases their cannabis at illegal sales outlets, gets it via friends/relatives, or cultivates his/her own cannabis. The most important reason to not buy at a coffee shop is the price, quantity, and distance to the nearest coffee shop. This involves consumers that want to purchase over 5 grams (for instance because they live some distance from a coffee shop) and users of (large) quantities to whom the price of cannabis in a coffee shop is too high. Because 78% of Dutch local authorities do not allow coffee shops in their community (zero option), the distance to a coffee shop can lead, in some areas, to a problem. This creates an illegal network of cannabis sales outlets in many cities, which does not serve the public peace or public health, (whereas public peace and public health are important pillars for the toleration policy).

Many coffee shops have a social function
- Especially in larger cities, many coffee shops are an integrated part of the functions of an area and contribute to the nightlife and the tourism industry. They form a natural part of the nightlife. Buying or using cannabis is not the only reason for visiting these sites. Coffee shops fill additional functions within the complete package of nightlife possibilities that big cities have to offer . Besides, coffee shops are known as places where Dutch people of various origins meet without any problems and can be considered one of the few places where we can truly speak of integration .

Coffee shops are normal enterprises from a fiscal point of view
- Coffee shop owners are from a fiscal aspect subject to normal charges. They are liable, just like every other enterprise, to pay taxes on their revenues (income or corporation tax). They have to pay social premiums and income tax for the employees that work in the coffee shop. According to the judgment of the Central Council, the coffee shop owner is liable to pay premiums for his employees . This ascertains the fact that the toleration policy is deeply rooted in our society. The Central Council follows the consistent, long term tolerance practice, and not the formal Opium act.

In nearly 80% of the cities, the consumer has to turn to non-tolerated scenes for the purchase of cannabis
- Due to the ever stricter enforcement policy, the number of coffee shops has been decreasing each year. For the last six years the number of coffee shops decreased from 846 in 1999 to 729 at the end of 2005. These enterprises are spread over 105 Dutch cities. Nearly half of the coffee shops are located in one of the three big cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague). 78% of the Dutch cities have no coffee shops. These cities operate a ‘zero option’.

The location of coffee shops has NO influence on use by minors
- The idea that the presence of a coffee shop would stimulate use by minors is incorrect. First of all, the number of minor users in the Netherlands is lower than in other countries. Secondly, the use of minors in cities without coffee shops is just as high as the number in cities with coffee shops. This makes distance criteria from schools or youth organizations unnecessary. Furthermore, coffee shops are not permitted to allow minors to use for penalty of (temporary) closure. Page: 6

The toleration policy is solemnly aimed at the front door
- Sales of cannabis via coffee shops are tolerated. This does not mean that cannabis is no longer an illegal drug; it means that the sales of cannabis are tolerated under strict conditions. These conditions, the so called AHOJ-G criteria , are supervised in a strict manner by local enforcement officials. Apart from these rules, cities often operate their own coffee shop rules that are recorded in a local toleration policy . The absence of coffee shops does not mean that a city does not have a policy in place for coffee shops. In 2005 only 5% of Dutch communities had no coffee shop policy. Furthermore, 72% of the communities have a zero policy, 22% have a maximum policy, and 1% has a policy without a maximum .

The toleration policy only has rules that refer to the sales of cannabis (the so called front door) and has no rules for the production and gross sales (or the back door). In recent years, the supervision at the front door has increased, while there is virtually no or little supervision at the backdoor. From this point of view, we can see a larger effort toward stricter supervision on the illegal growth of cannabis, which in turn has a strong influence on the supply.

Supply of Dutch cannabis has increased enormously

In the 1980s, most consumers smoked hashish. Only a small portion of consumers smoked foreign sources of weed (like Columbian or Thai weed). The supply of weed from Dutch soil was very limited and the quality was considered inferior. In the meantime, the quality of Dutch weed has improved to such an extent that it has pushed other kinds of hashish and cannabis out of the market. Today, an average coffee shop sells 70 to 80% Dutch cannabis and only 20 to 30% foreign sourced cannabis and hashish . The preference of consumers for Dutch cannabis in the Netherlands came to the fore in less than ten years’ time .

An increase in the THC level only barely leads to more risk
- Since 1999, the Trimbos institute has researched the amount of THC in the cannabis that is available in Dutch coffee shops. It turns out that the THC percentage in hashish and foreign cannabis has been stable for years and that the THC percentage in Dutch cannabis is now stable after a period of growth .

Moreover, until now, it has been unclear as to whether an increase in the THC had harmful effects on consumers’ health. The CAM issued expert analyses in 2003 regarding cannabis with an increased amount of THC. Based on the available data, they concluded that “there is ’in general’ no or only little additional risk with the use of cannabis at an increased THC percentage”. There might be an increased risk for the “non-accustomed consumers (first time users such as tourists)”, but, according to the experts, this is more due to the unawareness of the proper use of the substitute than the percentage of THC . In a recent article, English researchers arrived at the same conclusion. They believe that the increased percentage is no reason to theorize a higher risk for public health. To make that conclusion, more research regarding the relation between the percentage, the dosage, and problems in reference to the use of cannabis is necessary . Research on use shows that, especially younger boys, choose to smoke strong cannabis. Other consumers limit their consumption of cannabis when it has a higher amount of THC; to them the increase in THC percentage has no consequences . Further research from the RIVM to the short term effects of strong weed, shows that the effects on health are not to that extent that they would force an alteration in the current legal regime for cannabis . Cannabis types with a higher THC percentage can still be considered as soft drugs.

Setting up quality requirements for Dutch cannabis in the interest of the public health
- Research for herbicides on Dutch cannabis concluded that half of the, in 1999, researched samples contained herbicides. The research cannot provide a conclusion about the risks of the use of herbicides for the health of the consumer. However, the authors do find it plausible that persons who grow cannabis do have an increased health risk when working with the herbicides. Signs from the industry show that the use of (harmful) herbicides in cannabis cultivation has increased. From the point of public health it is wise to set up quality requirements for the Dutch cannabis that is sold in coffee shops

The interest for public health is increasingly outshone by the interest of Justice, which is not the intention of the Opium act. Cannabis cultivation is dealt with in a harsh way. This has led to a (considerable) decrease in the number of growers. This makes the demand for Dutch cannabis larger than the supply. This has not only led to a (substantial) increase in prices, but also to the alterations of Dutch cannabis! Increasingly, profit seeking traders treat cannabis with unknown products in order to increase the weight of the cannabis. The effect on consumers’ health that in turn smoke this cannabis with added substances that are difficult to trace is unknown .

Experiments for the regulations of the back door are necessary
- Cannabis sold in coffee shops is for the most part produced in the Netherlands. Quality control for hemp cultivation is not only a part of the possibilities but is, from the point of public health, necessary. The call for experiments to regulate the back door is growing louder and louder. It is absolutely time for such experiments, moreover because it can take away part of the illegal growth and nuisance in the slums. Therefore, the “Manifest van Maastricht” of December 2005 , which is called the plan Leers states: setting up the commencement of controlled hemp production by means of one or more experiment locations.

The Central Council states that the labor for the non-tolerated back door of the coffee shop is connected to the tolerated front door. If, production is not permitted (with a blind eye), permitting sales is illusive . How can a government agree to permit sales of something of which the production is not permitted? This contradiction can be neutralized by regulating the back door.

Economic effects of coffee shops in the Netherlands
- Dutch coffee shops have a positive effect on the economy. They create thousands of full-time jobs for those who have not attained higher-education, provide a strong impulse on the regional economy, and yield tens of millions in tax revenue. Numbers from the University of Maastricht in 2000 show total gross sales of € 26 million, and employment figures showing 326 full-time jobs in the Maastricht region alone. These numbers should be taken into consideration by evaluating the toleration policy.

Exaggerated news discredits cannabis and coffee shops
- The public view of coffee shops and cannabis is for the most part based on articles in the media. Due to the unclear status - coming from the toleration situation- cannabis is a frequent theme for all kinds of miss interpretations and (often over simplified) sensational stories. This effect is especially visible at the presentation of new research results. These are often completely taken out of context and therefore they create unnecessary agitation. For instance, think about the news articles about moldy cannabis , THC percentages, or the relation between cannabis and psychiatric illnesses. Miss interpretations seem to create a lot of agitation in the cannabis industry, by cannabis consumers and common citizens.

The founders of the manifest of 30 years of toleration state that:

1. the use of cannabis (legal or illegal) as a means of intoxication is, after alcohol and tobacco, the most frequently used product and cannot be filtered out of Dutch (European) society.

2. the number of cannabis consumers in the Netherlands has not, compared to other surrounding countries, increased disproportionally since 1976. Even though cannabis is relatively easy to find, purchase, and consume at coffee shops.

3. every Dutch city has cannabis consumers, while nearly 80% of the cities have no tolerated coffee shop.

4. coffee shops provide a positive contribution to nightlife and to the tourist industry. In addition, coffee shops provide an important asset to the integration of minority groups because they are one of the few sites where consumers of various origins come together without creating any problems.

5. until now, no evaluation has taken place on the effects of sales and the toleration policy of cannabis via coffee shops.

6. research on the effects and current toleration rules on the management of coffee shops from the point of public health and public peace has never been conducted.

7. it is important to regulate and control the entire chain (from the back door to the front door) as this is performed and set up for alcohol production and sales (the alcoholic beverages, hotel, and catering industry act).

8. the current discussions about the toleration policy and the regulation of the back door time and time again end up in a number of unproven scientific fads and fancies such as: the consequences of higher THC levels; relation to psychiatric illnesses, relation to organized crime, and the location of coffee shops in the neighborhood of schools.

9. entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry are hardly considered serious discussion partners by officials in the search for solutions to back door issues.

10. the decrease in the number of tolerated coffee shops has led to an increase of illegal sales points. This places serious pressure on the original goal of the toleration policy.

11. sharpening of the coffee shop policy and enforcement often causes rather than solves problems.

12. of the increase in illegal sales points of drugs leads to nuisances and greater public health risks.

13. criminalization of production and (gross) sales of cannabis produced in the Netherlands has unwanted consequences for the quality of the cannabis products, and therefore, for the public health.

That is why the founders of this manifest call upon the government to broadly evaluate the consequences of 30 years of toleration. This means that not only political and legal consequences should be taken into consideration in the evaluation, but also health, well being, and ethical and socio-economic and practical consequences.

Defining evaluation

In the attached manifest we call for a broad evaluation of the consequences of 30 years of toleration. We have indicated that not only political or legal consequences should be taken into consideration in the evaluation, but also health, well being, along with the ethical, socio-economical, and practical consequences should be fully considered. B

In recent years, it has often been shown that there is indistinctness about the way an evaluation should be shaped. It is often unclear which period is dealt with in the evaluation, who is considered for the execution of the evaluation, and which sources should be used. We, therefore, believe it is rather important to create more clarity about the conceptual structure of the evaluation of ’30 years of toleration’.

For that reason we hereby provide some suggestions in this appendix:

1. Further steps for regulation are perpetually turned down because international treaties that the Netherlands signed do not allow them. These treaties are based on scientific knowledge that is exceedingly antiquated. That is why the Netherlands should put pressure on the European and International society for an evaluation of the treaties that are based on current scientific knowledge. Martin Jelsma describes this rather well in his article “Achterdeur open U” Meer ruimte voor ons cannabisbeleid” (more room for our cannabis policy), which can be found on the website of the Transnational Institute ((www.tni.org/archives/jelsma/achterdeur.htm ). It simply cannot be the case that the government comes to the well-considered judgment that for reasons of public health and public peace a regulation of the back door is the most sensible thing, and that that cannot be processed due to outmoded stipulations coming from treaties that date from a period, half a century ago, when practically nobody in Europe had ever heard of cannabis, in which THC itself had not even been discovered yet.

2. During the hearing about the back door issues of the permanent committee on February 9, 2006, Mr. Raimond Dufour, chairman of the Stichting Drugsbeleid, explained that a regulation of the back door is indeed possible within the boundaries of the international drug treaties, based on articles 22 and 28 of the E.V. or by the expansion of the opportunity principle. During this hearing this opinion was disputed by one of the experts on behalf of the government, but the other expert from the government acknowledged that Mr. Dufour had a strong argument. He concluded that it was a political and not legal issue.

3. Considerable room should be created for experiments with regulation and harm reduction projects. This is indispensable to obtain an insight into whether adjustments of drug treaties are a good idea. Besides, no actual sanctions are expected regarding whether regulation is or is not allowed according to the treaties (see: www.drugsbeleid.nl).

4. The Netherlands can bring the WHO procedure into force to break out of the current deadlock and to revise the classification of cannabis in Lists I and IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs dating from 1961. Only one Member State is necessary for this action but other European Countries can also be convinced to provide support. A recommendation of the WHO to remove cannabis from Lists I and IV would be an important first step. It is a possible step for the short term that is not excessively complicated.

5. The government (House of Commons) can request a verdict from the Health Council and/or Council for Public Health and Care regarding the question of whether it is in the interest of the public health of the Netherlands to make a second, by all means debatable infringement on the concerned international treaties. (The House of Commons does not need permission from the Office of the Minister to ask for advice from the Health Council and/or the Council for Public Health and Care).

6. Because of the diverse areas and working spaces that are influenced by the toleration of cannabis, the political pressure (both within the country and abroad) and the many erroneous opinions that exist around this theme, it is necessary for independent experts from various disciplines to be involved in the execution and supervision of the evaluation.

In addition, we are always prepared to discuss with you the way in which the evaluation should take place.


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1 CAM, 2003
- 2 NDM, 2005, p.39.
- 3 NDM, 2005, p.33
- 4 Maalsté, 1994; Maalsté a.o.., 2005
- 5 Dienst Onderzoek en Statistiek Amsterdam, 2003, factsheet nr. 5.
- 6 Loor de, 1994
- 7 See: AB 2002/207, 21 February 2002: “Because the sale of soft drugs in a tolerated coffee shop is permitted or at least cannot lead to criminal prosecution, the sale of soft drugs in a tolerated coffee shop is, to the judgment of the Council, not in conflict with the public peace. Therefore, it is the belief of the Council that the labor agreement between the owner of a tolerated coffee shop and the salesman of soft drugs in a tolerated coffee shop is not in conflict, neither in content nor in meaning with the public peace. Therefore, an invalid agreement based on art. 3:40 part 1 of the Civil Code is out of the question”.
- 8 Bieleman a.o., 2006.
- 9 For comparison: ‘one-time-use of 15-16 year old youngster in the Netherlands in 2003 is 28%; in France it is 38% and in the United States it is 36% (NDM, 2006, p.44).
- 10 IVO, 2006.
- 11 AHOJ-G guide lines Department of Public Prosecution since 1996: (no advertisements, no hard drugs, no nuisance for neighbors, no entry for those under the age of eighteen, and no sales in large quantities. A maximum of 500 grams supply per coffee shop and a maximum of 5 grams per person, per day.
- 12 For example: no sales of alcohol in coffee shops and/or no concentration of coffee shops and APV adjustments.
- 13 Bieleman a.o., 2006.
- 14 St. Drugsbeleid, 1998, p.48; Jansen in: ESB, 5 April 2002, p.276.
- 15 Jansen in: Highlife, 2002/2003, volume 11, no..6, p.28.
- 16 Nevertheless, the percentage of THC in Dutch cannabis is still lower than that of imported hashish (respectively 17.5% and 18.7%). See: DIMS, 2006.
- 17 CAM, 2003
- 18 King a.o., 2005.
- 19 Korf a.o, 2004.
- 20 Mensinga a.o., 2006.
- 21 This is the conclusion of the Minister of VWS in 2006 in a letter to the Government in connection with the RIVM-research.
- 22 Traag a.o, 2001.
- 23 Sennema in: Highlife, 2006, volume 15, no. NDM, -23, p.39.
- 24 Leers a.o., 2005.
- 25 See LJN: AQ6684, no. sentence 02/2796 ALGEM, 5 August 2004: “The Council believes that it is certain that the persons working for the appealer, are also engaged in activities that are not tolerated, apart from the sales of soft drugs. “However, these activities are connected to the - tolerated - sales of soft drugs in a coffee shop and are unmistakably carried out for the benefit of the sales. It is to the knowledge of the Council that the tolerated sales are connected closely and widely to the non-tolerated activities. In addition to the before mentioned jurisprudence it is the opinion of the Council that, given the indicated circumstances, this is not a situation of invalid labor agreements. 22 Oude Wansink, 2001.
- 27 Research from Leiden (Hazekamp a.o., 2005) supposedly indicated that Dutch cannabis form coffee shops in comparison to weed grown specifically for medical reasons, contains mold that can be harmful to certain (terminal) patients. Patients using medical cannabis should therefore always purchase their cannabis at the drugstore.

published Wednesday 13 December 2006 01:03