Starting next year coffee shops in Groningen, among other nine municipalities in the Netherlands, will sell legally produced cannabis in the country as part of a four-year-long national trial. Coffee shop workers are dubious about the variety of the product.
For forty years cannabis consumption in the Netherlands has taken place in a grey area of tolerance: coffee shops are allowed to sell, but growing more than five plants is illegal and prosecuted. This means the experiment is going to change several well established dynamics. “We’ve existed since 1987, and for 30 years we’ve been buying weed from certain people, and these people have not been taken into consideration,” says Iggi De Backer behind the counter of Rag-a-Muffin, one of Groningen’s coffee shops. Illegal growers will probably find themselves immediately out of the market. “They asked our opinion about it, but they didn’t give a damn about what we said,” he continues.
Nevertheless, De Backer sees this change positively: “Any step towards total legitimacy is a positive thing,” he says loudly to cover the reggae music playing in the shop. “Right now they’re taking 50% of what I make in taxes, while with the new system they’ll be able to tax also in between, so maybe it’ll mean less taxes for us,” he says.
What doesn’t convince Iggi completely is that “the government will select 10 farmers that will grow only 100 strains of weed (10 per farmer); it is a mild selection”. Despite Iggi’s concerns, the municipality is reassuring about this issue: “It is a minimum number of varieties that a grower must be able to offer. If there is a need for more or different varieties, coffee shops and growers can discuss this,” says Boudina Lont, spokesperson for the mayor Schuiling.
In May 2019 a meeting was held in Groningen among stakeholders and representatives to decide whether the city would participate in the trial. As mentioned in the minutes of the meeting, the recent experience of some countries, especially Canada and the USA, has sparked the interest for a clearer and more modern legislation on cannabis production.
Among the 26 municipalities that applied, only ten were chosen for the trial. Big cities such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht stayed out of the experiment because of the great number of coffee shops they host, which would make controlling them much harder than in smaller municipalities.
“Applications from potential growers are now being assessed by the ministry,” says Boudina Lont. In some cases the applicants, such as JOINus, Project-C and QATI have also illustrated their projects in websites that anybody can find and consult. Much attention is paid to the quality of the product, which is expected to be better than now “because we can be sure that the product is controlled by the government and doesn’t have chemicals in it,” says Nadine, the “expert”, as her colleagues at Koffiehuis Reykjavik call her.