The Dutch ‘Tolerance’ Model and Why It Doesn’t Work

The Dutch are well known for places like Amsterdam where anyone can pop into a coffee shop and pick up some cannabis. But this is more about tolerance than legality.

dutch tolerance model

Despite its international fame, the Netherlands’ drug policy is not as open as it seems. The Dutch Tolerance Model one of tolerance rather than legalisation. This means that, though you won’t get in trouble for it (if you’re a resident, that is), smoking is still technically illegal. Production is still not tolerated. Unlike more recent policies, such as the one in the state of Colorado, the Netherlands has still not legalised the production of cannabis. This means that, aside from your own permitted personal plant, the growth and import of cannabis is still strictly non-tolerated.

1. Unfair treatment of producers vs. sellers. This means that, though coffee shops may sell freely, the people that do all the growing for them are still persecuted. This hypocritical system has come under fire, as the Dutch government is still able to benefit from sales tax whilst those actually responsible for generating this revenue are punished. 

2. Unregulated production. Because production is still strictly illegal, there are no health and safety standards for how cannabis should be produced. This means that growers can add pesticides, growth supplements, and refinement methods that would not be accepted in any other consumable product. The result is a lower quality product. 

3. It incentivises dangerous trafficking methods. Because there is no official production allowed in the Netherlands, this makes coffee shops more likely to buy from illicit overseas suppliers, which are notorious for their use of drug mules and connections to wider crime rings. With all its illegal import, the Netherlands is unofficially condoning dangerous and violent activities, and minimising the visibility of the people involved.

4. More burden on law enforcement. Because many aspects of the industry are still illegal, the government must invest more money on law enforcement that it otherwise would have to. This budget could otherwise be invested in tackling hard-drug addiction and homelessness.

5. It makes administration more complicated. When your coffee shop has a questionable legal status, it can make the logistics of bureaucracy a bit more difficult. One such impact of this is that coffee shop owners are unable to submit supply-side invoices for their accounting and taxes.

6. Not enough supply for demand. Without a national industry, the coffee shops can only get their stock from underground growers or smugglers. Because of their illegality, these methods can cause unreliable productivity, which means that supply cannot always keep up with demand. This pressures producers to use less sustainable methods, and means that sometimes the customer is left empty-handed.

The Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to relax their cannabis laws, but they haven’t really updated it since then. This has kept the industry from growing and accommodating the increasing popularity of cannabis consumption. Clearly, partial tolerance is not the way to go. In order to make full use of the benefits of the cannabis industry, and to ensure the protection of everyone involved, countries will need to fully commit to holistic legalisation and regulation. Going forward, it will be a better experience for everyone involved. 

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