As an international student, whenever I visit my home country I notice that people hold a few stereotypes about the Netherlands. If you also hear statements like: “All Dutch people smoke weed, right?”, or “Oh, it’s so nice that marijuana is legal there,” and you have to disappoint the ignorant ones every time, we’re on the same boat. It’s high time to reveal the truth about drug policy and bust all the drug-related myths.
Myth: Soft drugs are legal
Contrary to popular belief, weed was never legalized in the Netherlands. Formally, all drugs are forbidden. However, the government designed a tolerance policy which allows smoking cannabis under certain conditions.
Having up to 5 g of weed is decriminalized, so not punishable, yet not officially legal. If you carry more than that you will get a fine, or even go to jail if your pockets are stuffed with more than 1 kg of this drug.
You can also explain to your friends back at home that you can’t have a little cannabis plant next to your window. The cultivation of marijuana, even for personal use, still remains a criminal offense.
Myth: The Dutch are stoners
Try to make a comment on how kind and relaxed Dutch people are, and you’ll get an eager response along the lines of: “Sure they are! Because of all the ganja they smoke!” It’s a myth. The official site of Holland informs that the number of users of various types of drugs in the Netherlands is no greater than in other countries.
Myth: Weed is a soft drug
Marijuana and hashish are considered relatively harmless when compared to hard drugs. Or are they? The Dutch government is aware that the concentration of THC can vary and high-potency weed can be very dangerous.
Thus, marijuana with a THC concentration of 15% or higher was classified as a hard drug and, in consequence, the possession and use of it were made punishable.
Myth: The foreigners can’t buy marijuana
The introduction of ‘wietpas’, a card granting membership to a chosen coffee shop, in my closest surrounding sparked comments like “poor you, you can’t buy weed anymore!”
That’s true, as of 1 May 2012 you can only buy marijuana when you are a ‘wietpas’ holder. But it doesn’t mean that only the Dutch can get it and that international students are excluded from all the fun. The ‘wietpas’ was introduced to limit the invasion of Belgian, French and German tourists craving to smoke a joint next to a canal, and not to make an ultimate division between the Dutch and the foreigners.
The only requirement for getting a card, besides being an adult, is being registered in the municipality. International students usually meet this requirement.
Myth: Amsterdam will stay Amsterdam
Although the ‘wietpas’ has so far been introduced in the provinces of Zeeland, North Brabant, and Limburg, it doesn’t mean that Amsterdam will be saved. This law will apply everywhere in the country from 1 January 2013.
So you can tell your sapient uncle that his lecture on how coffee shops are a foundation of Amsterdam tourism, and that there is no way they’re going to be closed for visitors, is rubbish. You can also tell him to hurry up with his visit because he only has time until the end of this year.