Amsterdam – Dutch Medical Cannabis Culture
Amsterdam is undoubtedly the most well known city when it comes to cannabis in Europe, if not the entire world. This is in most part due to Dutch citizens and activists not accepting prohibition.
Wernard Bruning opened the first coffee shop in 1973, dozens more followed and soon the Dutch government had no choice but to be “tolerant” of cannabis culture. They overgrew the shackles which tried to chain them and Amsterdam has since been a city synonymous with cannabis.
Many people would be forgiven for thinking that cannabis is legal in the Netherlands, coffeeshops selling cannabis to the public are open every day and the consumer has no real issue. However it is not legal. It is merely tolerated. Coffeeshops are allowed to sell cannabis, but in a rather bizarre twist they all have to go to the black market to source the cannabis that they do sell. The Dutch government puts a limit of 500 grams onto coffeeshops which is quite impractical, especially since more and more of them are closing down thus each one has more custom to cater to.
This means that medical cannabis patients have a very easy time finding cannabis in the Netherlands, certainly more so than they would In the UK. Coffeeshops are not quite as good as many dispensaries and I would like to see more lab tested cannabis, however it is still a vast world away from the UK. Patients have choice of strains and can even grow five plants at home. Which is of course not really a sensible limit as unless you are growing trees five plants is unlikely to be sufficient for patients who need a lot of cannabinoids.
Introduction of Bedrocan
In 2002 Bedrocan was granted a licence to grow medical grade cannabis for patients in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. Under the Schengen Agreement a Dutch Patient prescribed Bedrocan is legally allowed to bring and use their medical cannabis in the UK. This despite the government continuing to say that cannabis is a schedule 1 drug with “no known medicinal value”. A point which was pushed by Norml-UK for our Cannabis Hypocrisy Protest where a Bedrocan patient came and vaporised cannabis legally outside the Houses of Parliament in 2013.
Bedrocan currently have four strains which are available through prescription in Dutch pharmacies. Although it is great that patients do have this option it was clear to me when visiting and talking to patients that many thought that this was not good enough. In fact some felt so strongly that Bedrocan was an injustice it bought them to tears. Many patients choose to go to coffeeshops rather than pay for Bedrocan, I have heard people saying they can find better quality at better prices in coffeeshops than Bedrocan. This is quite a shame as the black market does not have patients in mind when growing cannabis. There are some great organisations in Amsterdam which the UPA finds very inspiring, the Cannabis College seeks to provide people with cannabis knowledge and we will be working with them to do similar things at events in the UK in 2015.
Overall Dutch medical cannabis patients have it far better than their British counterparts, but yet again we find a system which is nowhere near good enough for the patients who it is meant to help. Lots of lessons can be learnt from medical cannabis in other countries. The UK will by no means be the first country to allow patients access to medical cannabis when change does inevitably come. But through the actions of other countries we can have the best system which helps patients the best way that it can.