From December 15, cannabis will be grown, sold and consumed legally for the first time in the Netherlands, a country already famous for its tolerance of soft drugs.

Here’s what you need to know about this long-awaited experiment, which starts the day after tomorrow, Friday, in the southern Dutch cities of Breda and Tilburg.

Common misconception

Contrary to the impression that is widely spread abroad, the sale and consumption of hashish, unprocessed hemp and their derivatives it is not legal in the Netherlands. Since the 1970s, these substances have been “tolerated” there and “authorities choose not to prosecute offenders,” according to the government’s website.

However, it is completely illegal in the Netherlands to grow cannabis or supply its popular ‘coffeeshops’.

Why the change?

This “tolerance” policy was adopted to differentiate hard from soft drugs, but over the decades it has led to a strange legal gray area.

The cannabis supply chain of around 570 coffeeshops thus continues to operate illegally, while local authorities complain of petty crime and anti-social behaviour.

Weed will also be carefully monitored and controlled so consumers know exactly what the potency of the cannabis is and what it contains.

Rick Brandt, owner of a coffeeshop in Brenda, told AFP in October that he hoped the experiment would allow him to sell “100% pure” products.

“What we’ve been accepting until now sometimes contains pesticides, but also foreign factors to increase the weight. In fact, we don’t really know what it contains,” he admits.

Authorities are also hoping for a reduction in petty crime and anti-social behaviour.

How will this work?

Dutch legislation will be temporarily suspended to allow producers and suppliers to operate in 11 municipalities – including Amsterdam East – which are supplied by 10 producers.

All coffeeshops in these municipalities should participate in the experiment, which is expected to last at least four years, so that the same rules apply to everyone and consumers know if they are getting the same product quality everywhere.

The other rules remain the same: a maximum of five grams can be sold per person per day, while sales remain prohibited to minors and shops cannot offer either hard drugs or alcohol.

Only persons living in the Netherlands can participate in the experiment. Coffeeshops will be able to store on-site more than the current maximum allowed amount of 500 grams – “the general rule (…) is up to a week’s supply”, according to officials.

What will be the sequel?

The aim of the experiment, the results of which will be analyzed by experts, is twofold: to find out if it is possible to regulate the supply chain of the famous coffeeshops and if this reduces petty crime and anti-social behaviour.

The impact on public health will also be analyzed.

The government “will decide on the future of Dutch coffeeshop policy on the basis of these results and other factors,” it says on its website in anticipation of possible decriminalization.

An unknown factor regarding this policy – and many others besides – remains, however, the outcome of the unexpected electoral victory of far-right leader Geert Wilders in the Dutch parliamentary elections last month.

Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) wants the “tolerance” policy to be abolished once and for all, to close coffeeshops and to achieve a “drug-free Netherlands”.

The PVV was ranked last among the parties that could be voted for by the website, which assessed which parties had the most favorable policies for the legalization of cannabis.