In the Netherlands there is a tolerance policy regarding soft drugs. Tolerance (or ‘condoning’) means that the government chooses not to prosecute certain criminal acts. Think of a criminal offense like selling soft drugs (as stated in the Opium Act). However, due to the tolerance policy, it is still possible to sell soft drugs, provided that a coffee shop adheres to established tolerance rules. In this way, something that is actually forbidden can still take place.
Tolerance policy soft drugs coffee shop
As we mentioned above, there are certain tolerance rules that a coffee shop must adhere to if it wants to sell soft drugs. For example, a coffee shop may only have a maximum of 500 grams of trade quantity in stock. If the coffee shop has more than this amount in stock, it risks being closed down. Another rule that applies is that only residents of the Netherlands aged 18 and older are allowed to enter a coffee shop to buy soft drugs. For this reason, the coffee shop owner must ask for proof of identity and/or possibly a residence permit. The coffee shop owner is responsible for enforcing this rule.
Why is there a tolerance policy?
You may wonder why there is a tolerance policy for soft drugs in the Netherlands at all. One important reason for this is that the tolerance policy prevents the sale and use of illegal drugs. There is also more supervision of the quality of the soft drugs themselves. Another reason for the tolerance policy may have to do with the fact that enforcement in the area of the sale/use of soft drugs can be difficult in practice.
Tolerance criteria for coffee shops
To sell soft drugs, all coffee shops in the Netherlands must adhere to certain rules, also called ‘tolerance criteria’. These criteria are:
- A coffee shop may not sell more than 5 grams of soft drugs per person per day.
- A coffee shop may not stock more than 500 grams of merchandise.
- A coffee shop is not allowed to sell hard drugs.
- A coffee shop is not allowed to sell soft drugs to people under the age of 18.
- People under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter a coffee shop.
- A coffee shop is not allowed to serve alcohol.
- A coffee shop may not advertise drugs or the coffee shop itself.
- The environment of a coffee shop must not be bothered by the coffee shop.
Is selling soft drugs a criminal offense?
Selling soft drugs is punishable. However, if a coffee shop sells the soft drugs and adheres to all established tolerance criteria above, the sale of soft drugs is tolerated. Selling soft drugs as a private person, on the other hand, can lead to criminal prosecution. For example, someone can be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison if he/she grows, sells or transports more than a certain amount of soft drugs.
Is using soft drugs punishable?
The use of soft drugs itself is not punishable. However, the use of soft drugs in public areas, for example on the street or in a park, is not allowed in most municipalities due to nuisance. If the municipality has banned the use of soft drugs in public areas, the police will patrol and check this.
The Public Prosecution Service has determined that persons are allowed to possess a maximum of 5 grams of soft drugs. If one possesses more than 5 grams of soft drugs and the police find out about this, one must hand in the soft drugs. Most probably no criminal action will follow. However, producing or selling soft drugs (as a private person) is strictly prohibited and may lead to prosecution.
Tightened measures for coffee shops
In recent years, the measures/criteria with regard to coffee shops have been tightened. With this strict policy the government wants to combat nuisance and crime related to coffee shops and drug trade. Part of this stricter policy is the rule that only Dutch residents are allowed to enter a coffee shop and buy soft drugs. It is also very important that the coffee shop owner only admits people aged 18 and over and checks this carefully. Finally, municipalities may impose additional requirements on coffee shops in order to prevent nuisance. Consider, for example, different opening hours or more distance to schools.
Is there a tolerance policy for hard drugs?
There is certainly no tolerance policy for hard drugs. The production, trade and possession of hard drugs are strictly prohibited. Criminal prosecution policy is mainly focused on the production and trafficking of hard drugs, especially in larger quantities. Tracing possession of small amounts of hard drugs for personal use has low priority.
Is there a tolerance policy for public drunkenness?
Public drunkenness is a criminal offense, but is still tolerated in the Netherlands, unless there is a disturbance of order, nuisance and/or danger to the person involved and/or the environment. In general, someone who is drunk in public is told to go home. In certain cases, such as endangering the environment, the punishment may be imprisonment or a fine.