Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Legalizing Marijuana

Posted by butalidnl on 26 March 2010

California may be the first US state to legalize the use of marijuana. Californians are going to decide in a referendum in November (together with the midterm elections) whether or not to legalize “recreational” marijuana. California has already legalized the use of “medicinal” marijuana, and 15 other US states have followed suit. Now, it is the turn for “recreational” marijuana.

All this brings natural comparisons with the Dutch practices regarding marijuana. In the Netherlands, contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not legal. It is still illegal to grow it in significant quantities. However, the government has a policy of not arresting people for using marijuana. In effect, marijuana use is “tolerated”.  People can buy the marijuana they need from “coffeeshops” (which ironically don’t sell coffee, but soft drugs e.g. marijuana and hashish). Coffeeshops are regulated by the government. They can’t sell to minors (below 18 years old), or sell alcohol together with the drugs. And the maximum amount to be sold per person per day is just 5 grams.

People are allowed to grow marijuana for their personal use. The “tolerated” limit is 5 plants. Growing large batches of marijuana is illegal, and you can get arrested for doing so. But the punishment is mostly just confiscation of your plants plus a fine and community service. If you have a “plantation” in your attic and the house is rented, you may also be ejected from your house by the Housing Corporation (the excuse is that marijuana growing is a fire hazard).

Thus, the growing of marijuana is illegal. People have been clamoring to change the law, and really legalize marijuana. This way, the cultivation of the crop could be regulated, police could do other more important work, the government could tax the sales, and quality could be ensured.

So, to go back to California: If they succeed in legalizing marijuana, and not merely in decriminalizing its use, they would be one step ahead of the Netherlands.  And perhaps if California leads, the Netherlands could follow.

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