“It forces us to legal splits,” said Hendrik Brand, who has run the popular de Baron coffee shop in the southern city of Breda for decades. “One foot on the legal side and the other foot somewhere else.”
Stocking his shelves (or, in the case of de Baron, an old wooden drawer under a counter), is technically illegal, if tolerated by the police.
The government, is taking steps to address the situation. It has proposed a pilot program to explore the effects of legalizing, standardizing and taxing the sort of professional-grade marijuana operation that was broken up in Best.
“To make the system logical again is to also tolerate the production of the cannabis,” said Paul Depla, the mayor of Breda and an outspoken proponent of legalization.
Supporters of the test hope decriminalization will help assure that users have access to safer marijuana.
Mr. Brand said years of raids on small growers, whom he called “hippies,” has left him struggling for suppliers he knows and trusts. “We do everything we can to protect the health of our customers,” he said, adding that before purchasing the cannabis for his shop, he puts samples under a microscope to see whether they are laced with anything impure or appear otherwise unhealthy.
Backers of the pilot program also hope it will remove organized gangs from the supply chain.
Last month, the national police union, Politie Bond, released a stinging report warning of the growth of organized crime in the country, fueled by the drug trade.
“The Netherlands fulfills many characteristics of a narco-state. Detectives see a parallel economy emerging,” the report stated, noting that while crime over all had decreased, those producing and trafficking drugs were becoming ever more sophisticated.
“We have to be honest about the current situation, where organized crime has taken over marijuana growing situations,” said Arno Rutte, a lawmaker with the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, a liberal party currently in the four-party governing coalition.
The proposal, which is being shaped in committee and is scheduled for a vote in Parliament in the summer, would allow six to 10 Dutch cities to legally produce and sell cannabis for four years.
Although only the rough outline of the proposal is known so far, the law would most likely license official growers, who will then be allowed to grow specific strains, similar to how medical marijuana is handled in the Netherlands.
Whatever final shape the pilot project takes, it is likely to create a multimillion-dollar industry, and stakeholders — from corporate greenhouse suppliers to coffee shop owners — are vying for a say.
“We ask to be part of making the rules,” said Nicole Maalsté, an activist who helps represent nearly half the 567 Dutch coffee shops nationwide. “We want to be partners in this.”
The coffee shops are a fixture of neighborhood life in many Dutch cities. Close to the picturesque center of Breda, de Baron is typical — as far as the term can be used in an industry that prides itself on individuality. Clientele of various ages hang out, smoke joints or play cards, often for hours.
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