Reference picture of a weed joint related to the cannabis legislation in the Netherlands

Cannabis Legislation In The Netherlands

The Netherlands was one of the pioneers regarding tolerating the sale, possession and use of cannabis. Now, December 2023, more and more countries are fully legalizing cannabis and the Netherlands is no longer the forerunner. However, there are new developments regarding cannabis legislation in the Netherlands. In this article, we look at the history, current legislation and developments that may change future policy.

History of cannabis legislation in the Netherlands

Coffeeshops tolerance policy

Tolerance policy for individuals

Weed experiment: closed coffeeshop chain

Is CBD legal in the Netherlands?

Open Your Mind


History of cannabis legislation in the Netherlands

The history of cannabis legislation in the Netherlands begins in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, there was a growing tolerance for drug use in the Netherlands. This was due in part to the influence of the hippie culture and the student movement. This period also saw the emergence of the first coffeeshops (Dutch term for weed dispensaries), where marijuana and hashish were sold. The government was initially dismissive of coffeeshops. In 1972, there was even police action against the coffeeshops. However, this action led to much criticism, and the government decided to introduce a policy of tolerance.

In 1976, the Opium Act (In Dutch: ‘’Opiumwet’’) was amended, making the sale of small quantities of cannabis in coffeeshops no longer punishable. Since then, there has been a policy of tolerance in the Netherlands. This policy was introduced with the aim of controlling drug trafficking and drug use.

This tolerance policy was introduced with a number of conditions. For example, coffeeshops were only allowed to sell marijuana, but not tobacco or alcohol. In addition, coffeeshops were also not allowed to advertise their products.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the number of coffeeshops in the Netherlands increased significantly. In 1995, this expansion was criticized because the coffeeshops would cause nuisance. Therefore, in 1996 the guidelines for coffee shops were tightened. The number of coffeeshops has since declined, but seems to have stabilized again in recent years.

The Dutch government tightened its cannabis policy in the years that followed. This to keep out drug tourists and try to lower the THC content of cannabis. The following measures were taken, repealed or proposed:

  • Closed club criterion 2012 (Dutch term: Besloten club criterium): people had to become members of a coffeeshop to access it. This was abolished because it led to a lot of dealing cannabis on the streets.
  • Resident criterion 2013 (Dutch term: Ingezetenen criterium): only residents of a local town may buy cannabis in a coffeeshop. This criterion is only enforced in a places in the Netherlands, including Breda, Dordrecht, Goes, Lelystad, Maastricht, Sittard-Geleen and Terneuzen (1).
  • Distance criterion 2014 (Dutch term: Afstandscriterium): coffeeshops may not be within 350 meters of a school.
  • 15% measure. Cannabis with a THC content of 15% or more would be banned and labeled as a hard drug in the Opium Act. However, this measure never got implemented as it is hard to control.
  • Experiment closed coffeeshop chain 2021 (Dutch term Experiment gesloten coffeeshopketen) 10 cities are experimenting with a closed coffeeshop chain. This will involve controlling the supply, purchase and sale of cannabis. More on this later in this article.

Read here more about the historical context why weed is illegal.


Medicinal cannabis legislation

The Netherlands was the first country to make it possible to obtain medicinal cannabis through pharmacies on doctor's prescription. Patients have been able to do this since 2003. To obtain medicinal cannabis, you must get a prescription from a doctor. The doctor must first investigate and conclude that medicinal cannabis is the best treatment for the patient's condition.

Examples of conditions for which it is prescribed in the Netherlands include: chronic pain, epilepsy, in chemotherapy it can reduce nausea and vomiting, anxiety and sleep problems and Multiple Scelerosis (MS).

All medicinal cannabis dispensed in the Netherlands is also grown locally. The Bureau Medicinale Cannabis is a government agency that has designated growers to take care of this. The cannabis is always checked for quality and safety.

 Reference picture of cannabis buds related to the medicinal cannabis legislation

Coffeeshops tolerance policy

In the Netherlands, the sale of weed and hash in coffeeshops is tolerated. This means that it is not officially allowed but to a certain extent not punishable either. Coffeeshops must follow a number of strict rules to fall under this tolerance policy.

These rules include provisions such as the daily maximum of 5 grams of cannabis per person, the ban on the sale of hard drugs and denying access to minors. In addition, coffee shops are not allowed to serve alcohol, may not advertise cannabis and the coffeeshops itself, and the available stash on location must be limited to a maximum of 500 grams.

Avoiding inconvenience to the surrounding area is also a requirement, and coffeeshops should not grant access to or sell to persons who are not residents of the Netherlands. These tolerance criteria are the guidelines that coffeeshops must meet to maintain their operations within the legal framework.

In reality, this is a rather complex and illogical system. This is because it is illegal to grow and transport marijuana. This makes the coffee shop owner punishable when they purchase cannabis or grow it themselves. So they are allowed to sell it (under restrictions) but can’t buy it legally.

 Picture of two people smoking cannabis in a coffeeshop in the Netrherlands related to the tolerance policy for coffeeshops

Tolerance policy for individuals

In addition to coffeeshops, there are also limited matters tolerated regarding the possession and cultivation of marijuana for persons. Below is the current state of affairs in 2023.


In the Netherlands, possession of cannabis for personal use is tolerated, meaning it is not punishable but also not allowed. The tolerated limit for cannabis is 5 grams per person per day.

For young people under 18, possession of marijuana is prohibited, and an offense is punishable by law with community service or a fine. 

For adults, possession of cannabis is tolerated up to 5 grams per person per day. This means the police will not prosecute this. If the police catch someone with more than 5 grams, that person may be fined and the weed will be confiscated. If a person is caught more often with more than 5 grams of cannabis, a higher fine may be imposed. Between 5 and 30 grams, the government considers this a misdemeanor, not a felony.

If you are caught with more than 30 grams of cannabis, this is a more serious offense than a misdemeanor and you are committing a felony. A higher fine may apply for this and jail time may also be imposed.

Growing weed

Growing weed is prohibited in the Netherlands. However, growing up to five plants without technical aids (such as strong lights) is not prosecuted. But if these plants are discovered they will be confiscated.

Cultivation of more than five plants is considered professional/commercial. This is punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to €81,000.


Curious about the current legal status of cannabis in other countries in Europe? In our article we dive into the legality of cannabis in different countries and discuss the best places to go to smoke weed.


Weed experiment: closed coffeeshop chain

The tolerance policy for cannabis in the Netherlands is not uncontroversial. Some people think the policy is too soft and that it encourages drug use. Others feel that the policy is too strict and that it stigmatizes people who use cannabis.

The current tolerance policy has a number of drawbacks. Possession of more than 5 grams of cannabis is still punishable, and growing cannabis is also still illegal. This requires more enforcement and also keeps the illegal drug trade going. In addition, it is a strange situation for coffeeshops because they are not allowed to buy cannabis but are allowed to sell it.

To limit these disadvantages, the weed experiment was started in 2021. The official name of the weed experiment is: ''Experiment closed coffeeshop chain'' (Dutch term: Experiment gesloten coffeeshopketen) . This experiment examines the possibility of regulating the production, distribution and sale of cannabis. A total of 10 places in the Netherlands are participating: Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Voorne aan Zee, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Zaanstad.

The experiment will start on December 15, 2023, with the cities Tilburg and Breda as forerunners. Two legal cannabis growers will supply the weed to different coffeeshops in these cities. All weed will be tested for quality, meaning the amount of THC, CBD but also heavy metals and aflatoxin will be determined. This way you are more assured that you are buying safe and effective weed in the coffeeshops that participate.

With this experiment, the government wants to see if the full legalization of cannabis is possible. Testing the quality of cannabis is an important step toward better regulation of this market. The weed experiment will examine the effects on public health and crime.

 Picture of a legal weed growe related to the Weed experiment: closed coffeeshop chain

Is CBD legal in the Netherlands?

In the Netherlands, CBD (Cannabidiol) has legal status under specific conditions. CBD is a non-psychoactive substance in marijuana plants. According to the Opium Act, cannabis with a THC content of less than 0.05% is considered legal, making CBD products with this low THC content freely available.

CBD products, such as oils, capsules and creams, are sold in many places such as pharmacies, health stores and online retailers. These products are intended for use as dietary supplements and are not subject to the same strict regulations as medicine. However, it is important that manufacturers adhere to the set standards for THC content and other ingredients.

CBD is therefore legal but products containing more than 0.05% THC are prohibited. Furthermore, the products may not be sold as drugs, nor may they be advertised in a way that suggests it has medicinal properties.


Open Your Mind

At Open Your Mind, we are committed to providing valuable information to our community through our Cannabis Knowledge Center. We believe that many biases regarding cannabis use stem from a lack of accurate information and experience. It is our goal to dispel these prejudices, and this commitment is reflected in our brand name: Open Your Mind.

Within our knowledge center, we publish informative articles on a variety of topics related to cannabis. We cover responsible cannabis use, the role of cannabis in a happy and balanced life, the effects of cannabis on both the mind and body, and offer practical tips, such as discovering unique coffee shops and helpful tricks for cannabis use. By sharing this information, we try to contribute to a more open-minded perspective on cannabis.


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