Nederweed, Euroweed the case for regulated production

1995 Mario Lap,

paper for harm reduction conference Firenze

After nearly twenty years of government regulation of domestic cannabis markets in The Netherlands , a period in which cannabis use was successfully integrated into Dutch society and the number of users stabilised , organised crime and large scale exports are coming to dominate the trade

This process coincides with a revival of the use of cannabis in Europe and a key role in this trend is played by Dutch Marijuana.

The extent to which the involvement of organised crime in the importation and trade of cannabis products and the prosecution of these groups should be a matter of concern to Dutch society came to light in the spring of `94 when Dutch Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin was forced to resign following a huge undercover operation involving the importation of 25,000 kilos of cannabis. First the drugs disappeared from official custody in the course of the operation (which, it is reported, had also planned to acquire 5000 kilos of pure cocaine) and then surfaced in the United Kingdom.

This massive blunder of narcotic enforcement (the IRT affair) has forced parliament to use the strongest (therefore seldom used) instrument they have "The Parliamentary Inquiry" of the research methods employed by Dutch police.

In the meantime the Justice Department has been under threat in a way unheard of in The Netherlands and all of that in the process of chasing "hash organisations".

Public Prosecutors physically threatened and entire cases against organisations including records of illegal prosecution proceedings on 55 diskettes stolen by breaking in to the Courts and homes of Public prosecutors. These files were than published , used against the prosecution by defence lawyers of these organisations and now will be testimony for the parliamentary inquiry.

But more important in the context of this conference is that the scale and significance of the illicit cannabis economy reveals the limitations of Dutch cannabis policy reform and suggest that the next step in the process of normalising cannabis consumption in the Netherlands should be the legal production of the drug.


The 1972 report of the National Baan Commission "the working group on narcotic substances ", led to the depenalisation of cannabis under which prohibition of cannabis remained in the criminal code but personal use was no longer prosecuted. This plan brought a clear-cut distinction between drug users and traffickers , and between illegal drugs with so called "unacceptable health risks and cannabis products. The philosophy behind this was called the "separation of drug markets"

It aimed to avoid contacts by young cannabis consumers with the "hard drug scene" and the criminal/violence that often accompanied it. The Netherlands permitted the retail-trade of cannabis- products in about 1500-1800 local; "koffeeshops" under specific condition i.e. no advertising, no hard drugs, no disturbance of public order, no sale to minors (under 18), and no sale of quantities larger than 30 GMs per customer. Enforcement of these guidelines fell to local "Triangle Committees" composed of the Mayor, Chief of Police, and District Attorney of each city.

This tolerant policy toward the retail trade and use of cannabis for recreational purposes (in effect since 1976) has, without question, had a positive influence in The Netherlands. The number of user of cannabis products seemed rather stable until the recent revival, the number of problematic hard drug users has declined steadily, and the soft and hard drug markets are separated to a considerable extent.

The public at large view cannabis in a relaxed and tolerant way and the discovery of a young cannabis user does not lead to stigma, psychiatric treatment (as is still practised in many European countries) or prosecution. In case of problematic use anyone has ready access to diverse and comprehensive treatment facilities based in the public health sector.

The domestic Dutch market is a well established commercial structure based in the koffeeshop system.

It is supplied by many small to mid-size local producers plus a number of larger importers. Although tolerating the retail-trade of hashish and marijuana in the koffeeshops, no similar systems has ever been applied towards the production, inspection or wholesale-trade of cannabis in The Netherlands - indeed these are vigorously prosecuted.

The sale of soft drugs in these koffeeshops includes hashish (cannabis product) and marijuana (dried parts of the cannabis plant). The hashish is mostly produced outside of The Netherlands whereas the Marijuana is mostly produced in The Netherlands.

The so called "Nederweed" high potency marijuana grown in The Netherlands, is produced both on a small scale by local entrepreneurs and on a larger scale in a semi professional way.

So far there has been little evidence of organised crime in the koffeeshops operations and even less of violence associated with the domestic trade.

But clearly there is organised crime in the supply chain if it were alone for the supply of imported hashish. Intensified judicial attention to the supply sources of koffeeshops inevitably pushes them towards more criminal circles and disturbs the local supply-patterns based on smaller scale domestic operators A large number of koffeeshops have resisted this drift toward a more criminal existence

The proprietors of those koffeeshops would prefer a normal legal status with corresponding taxation and contributions, but the current legislation prohibits this. Although the irrationality of this situation is realised by most, the Dutch lawmakers hesitate to act - using international treaties, pressure and politics as a justification for static inertia.

The Dutch Domestic Market in Figures

Consumption Demand / Domestic Consumption

When we use the current official estimation by the Dutch Ministry of Health Welfare and Sports of 600 000 consumers of cannabisproducts and fix the average consumption at an estimated two grams a week per consumer. The yearly domestic consumption amounts up to 62.400 kilos.

Ascertaining the average price on the retail level at about Fl 10.- NL a gram the domestic market at the retail level or the yearly domestic consumption demand amounts up to Fl 624 000 000 NL

Retail Trade

At this moment there are about 1500 to 1800 so called Koffeeshops or rather cannabis supplying catering businesses in The Netherlands.

The average yearly turnover realised with the sale of cannabisproducts per Koffeeshop can be estimated to be around Fl. 400 000. Based on this figure we can estimate what the total yearly turnover of this branch of trade is:

1500/1800 x 400 000.- = Fl. 600 000 000.- / 720 000 000.-

Before we turn to the supply side of the market, importation and cannabis production, further clarification on the relations between the figures presented is required here.

One will rightfully state that a part of the consumption demand is provided for by means of production for personal consumption. On the other hand we have to state that a part of the turnover by koffeeshops is realised by the sale to non residents (7-10 %)

Besides turnover from selling cannabis the koffeeshops because of there social gathering function also have income within the VAT sphere of selling coffee, juices, sandwiches and snacks.

1500/1800 x 100 000.- = Fl 150 000 000.- / 180 000 000.-


The demand above mentioned or rather the need for supplies by the koffeeshops is covered for 35 % by hashish. Although recently also hashish produced in The Netherlands of excellent quality is offered in koffeeshops, due to the quality of the cannabis, profit expectations and labour intensity of hashish production, there is no significant importation substitution such as is the case with marijuana yet to be observed. Most of the hashish is therefore coming from Morocco but hashish also from Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Russia , Turkey and India is imported.

The total amount of money involved in the hashish supply of the Dutch domestic cannabis market based on 35 % of the market and therefore 21 000 kilos can be calculated at different levels.

At the whole sale level at Fl. 5000.-per kilo average price the Dutch hashish market is worth Fl. 105 million guilders whereas this same amount of hashish accounts for at least Fl 210 million guilders of the total amount of money involved in the domestic cannabis trade on the retail level.

Imported Marijuana

About 5 % of the domestic market is provided for by cannabis imported from Africa, Asia, The Caribbean, North and South America.

Total amount of money involved on the whole sale level : 3000 x 4000 = Fl 12 000 000.- and on the retail level Fl 24 000 000.-

Growing and Producing Nederweed

When we observe the producers of cannabis in The Netherlands and try to come up with some kind of diversification or classification the following distinctions can be made.

A small remark has to be made here first because where professional growing was nearly all taking place in green or glass houses before the largest part of the production is now realised "inside"

1. Home Growers or Non Professional Growers

yearly estimated production for domestic market = 10 000 kilos

buying price koffeeshop Fl 4000.-/5000.- a kilo therefore Fl 40 to 50 million guilders which amount is more than doubled at the retail level. Fl. 80 to 100 million guilders.

2. Professional Growers

yearly estimated production for domestic market = 30 000 kilos ( clones excluded )

of which in green or glass houses 10 000 kilos and "inside" 20 000 kilos

totally worth Fl. 120 to 150 million whole sale and 240 to 300 million in the koffeeshops

Than some attention has to be paid to the sale of cuttings, clones and seedlings.

The professional growers supply about 1 000 000 cuttings a year to other potential producers in The Netherlands and elsewhere at an average price of Fl. 5.- a piece totalling at 5 million guilders.

Finally there is the legal production of and trade in cannabisseed.

This trade is normally taxed (VAT included) as any other good in The Netherlands and is estimated to amount to five to seven million guilders yearly.


Dutch Marijuana or Nederweed is being produced on an increasing scale also outside of The Netherlands. In The Netherlands itself this year a record figure of Nederweed plants was seized according to the Central Investigative Service of Dutch Police (CRI) in Zoetermeer.

Also in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Poland and especially England plantation of this kind of marijuana is taking place on an increasing scale according to the police forces over there.

In European narcotics consultation one is already speaking of Euroweed.

The first eleven months of this year the police in The Netherlands has removed 500 000 plants from growers which is already three times as much as in 1993.

In Poland early this year a plantation was discovered that was set up by a Dutch organisation and especially England reports the establishment of a growing number of illegal "laboratories where the potent Dutch marijuana is grown.

The flourishing of nederweed as mentioned above coincides with a revival of the use of cannabis in Europe and the US.

Some "guru's from the Dutch soft-drugscene of the sixties imported carefully selected seeds from the United States and elsewhere in the early eighties and started to pedigree seed in order for the plant to become a super crop that by now is quoted as one of the best marijuana species in the world.

Nederweed from the street word weed for marijuana broke through in the early nineties and as mentioned above now constitutes over half of the offerings in the koffeeshops. Thousands of small domestic growers produce their own stock and try to make a little money on the side by selling to koffeeshops. Larger organisations also turn to growing the wonder crop of the Dutch native soil more and more in sheds, glass houses and office buildings.

A legislative proposal regulating the production an trade of cannabis in The Netherlands written by the author was introduced in parliament early `93 by the Environmental Party and backed by the Labour Party than in government but due to the veto of the Minister of Justice (who later had to resign as mentioned in the beginning) and his party the Christian Democrats a choice for more vigorous prosecution of cannabisproduction was made.

This resulting to what was already predicted by both the author and the police Dutch cannabis becoming an export product and production slowly being started by organised crime also.

In The Netherlands the seizure of 71 000 plants in 1991 revealed the large scale growing of nederweed for the first time. The year after with 313 000 had an enormous increase but in 1993 the figure remained at 195 000 plants. This year with 500 000 plants in the first 11 months is a record but also the plantations get bigger and bigger which gives the impression that growing cannabis is getting in the hands of professional organisations where not so long ago ten thousand plants was a big seizure now twenty to thirty thousand plants is no exception

Interpol in London will start a research this spring after police squads in Great Britain were for the first time confronted with indoor growing of Sinsemilla, the plants improved in The Netherlands from which there is harvest five times a year. In 1993 twenty "laboratories" were dismantled and the first nine months of this year already 45 from the size of a hundred up to more than a thousand plants

In Germany it is usually still smaller quantities at home growers that produce for personal consumption. Two years ago the German police already seized cannabisplants in almost 300 cases, that also according to the Bundeskriminalambt (BKA) in Wiesbaden had their origin in The Netherlands. This trend has proceeded in an increased way. The largest capture (800 plants) was done on an plantation outside in Bayern. Large professional growers were not yet detected by the German police. With the growing toleration of the use of cannabis in the German Federal Republic the German police is not very eager to fetch small growers that still mainly specialise in German Nederweed. But there is a clear case of a growing market and especially also in the federal states in the east there is a lot of interest in this marijuana. Even in Italy in the mean time production of Nederweed was discovered and also in Belgium the police encounters illegal growing of this marijuana

Contents and Structure of Proposed Law

As mentioned before in 1993 a legislative solution to establish adequate supervision and control of both the production and supply of cannabis products in The Netherlands has been proposed.

Cannabis, a substance with "acceptable health risks", is especially suitable for regulation resembling the alcohol act as well as administrative supervision. Public order and public health form the basis for such regimes as they are already functioning under the alcohol trade law.

Under such a new law

a. it won't be necessary for cannabis consumers to acquire cannabis from illegal sources

b. the illegal importation and production of cannabis will become unprofitable.

c. cannabis production for the domestic market will be changed into an industry in which many people can have respectable jobs.

d. relief of the judicial system will be accomplished by means of a decrease in pressure concerning the policing, trial and punishment of drug cases involving cannabis.

e. quality supervision will be established to prevent the supply of inferior cannabis products.

f. a tax structure, as for other goods and services, will be established.

g. clearer and better functioning supervision and control of selling points will be achieved than is currently possible by means of the Triangle Committees

h. a withdrawal of the domestic Dutch cannabis market and it's players from the criminal sphere will be achieved.

I. obligatory co-operation by selling points with preventive information concerning the possible dangers of very frequent or excessive use of cannabis products can be accomplished and education for more sensible use patterns made

The proposed regulation has a strong resemblance to the current Dutch alcohol catering system (i.e. bars) but in this law the production of cannabis is addressed as well. This choice was made because of the desire for regulation of the nature of premises where cannabis is sold as well as commercially produced.

The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports seems best suited to take responsibility for the execution of this act. A minimum THC content is specified in the law so that the production of cannabis for non recreational purposes is left out of this proposal. A national hallmark will be required for selling points issued by the town government stating that the cannabis sold is under control by the National Cannabis Agency. This way the public order, urban planning and the general character of a town can be respected.

A license for a production enterprise will be issued by an inspector of public health thereby safeguarding the interests of both the consumers and public health. any production of more than ten cannabis plants will be considered "commercial production" thereby enabling home production for personal consumption (up to 10 plants) to be excluded from the regulation. The exportation and importation of cannabis or cannabis products without a license issued by the ministry will remain punishable with a prison sentence of up to six years.

Requirements for packaging concerning cannabis are included in the proposal so that consumers will be aware of the strength or quality of the cannabis offered. A minimum age of eighteen years is proposed for the selling points (based on the new Dutch Civil Code legally defining eighteen year olds as adults)

International Perspective

Paragraph 285 of the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board of 1993 (United Nations Publication ISBN 92-1-148091-4) states that "The Board is confident that the government of The Netherlands will take the necessary measures to limit the cultivation of cannabis and the expansion of so-called koffeeshops, in which a person may purchase up to 30 grams of cannabis products." Foreign governments and international organisations should be aware of the current Dutch policy with respect to cannabis by now and the negative effects of criminalisation of cannabis on public health and the social position of users. This justifies the regulation of the current practice in The Netherlands.

The Dutch cannabis policy is a corner stone of overall Dutch drug policy aimed at decreasing the number of new hard drug users by a separation of markets. Therefore the regulation as proposed should be acceptable by the international narcotic authorities as long as the Dutch government combats and punishes illicit exportation.

In the context of the main narcotic treaty (the Single Convention of New York 1961), we believe that the Board expects the Dutch government to regulate i.e. limit but not ban the production and sale of cannabis in The Netherlands. It is understood that the Board expects the Dutch government to do so in compliance with the Single Convention by means of a government agency or bureau taking control over these activities (section 28 juncto 23 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 and official Commentary of 1973). It is exactly this that is being proposed in this proposal. As the main objectives of this Convention are the fight of addiction and illegal trade, allowing "medical and scientific use of drugs" (Section 4 Single Convention), there is room for a policy emphasising what is best for public health in The Netherlands as the Dutch Constitution (section 22)demands of Dutch Government

Future Prospects and Political Reality

The Dutch situation and the proposal mentioned for the legal production and local distribution of cannabis products has to be seen as part of a grand strategy for harm reduction extended to the political economy of the region. The recent Supreme Court ruling in Germany (depenalising importation of cannabis for personal use ) may even provide a legal basis for bilateral negotiation of export arrangements and models (or test cases) for extending the rational regulatory control of cannabis throughout Europe.

Let me finish this essay by describing the latest political developments in The Netherlands knowing that by the time of the conference we will know more about developments still uncertain in January.

After the 1994 election for the first time this century The Netherlands has a government without the Christian Democrats. In fact both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice are ladies of the D'66 progressive liberal party with a party programme calling for cannabis legalisation.

It is clear in The Netherlands that a return to cannabis prohibition is not a realistic option.

Furthermore the status quo is also not a situation that is anywhere near stable or desirable.

Therefore large consensus is there for regulation and the amount whereto, the modalities and the pace of the process achieving full legalisation is what is under discussion now


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1 Fl.10.- or 10 Dutch Guilders/Florins amount up to approx:: $ 6.- US, FF 30.-, DM 9.- etc By inside I mean the plants are grown using special lamps, irrigation and other growing devices thereby enabling up to 5 crops a year. cannabis growing taking place inside using lamps as above

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