Now that the use and sale of cannabis have been regulated, it is time to regulate its production. Traditional arguments claiming that this would put the Netherlands in violation of international agreements are unsound. This is the opinion of Jan Brouwer, Professor of General Law Studies at the University of Groningen.
Combating cannabis production currently costs the government so much manpower and effort that various municipal authorities are making a case for regulating cannabis production under local authority supervision. Up until now, the Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, has always opposed this move on the grounds of three binding UN conventions. According to Brouwer, the Netherlands should invoke the grounds for exemption in the conventions (as many other countries have done) and the reservation that the Netherlands once made to ensure that the Public Prosecution Service would retain its discretionary powers.
The Netherlands already makes use of the exemption to allow the sale of soft drugs. ‘Under the terms of the conventions, our country must make it explicitly illegal to grow, possess and sell cannabis. We do this via our Opium Act, but the Public Prosecution Service does not always prosecute. The Public Prosecution Service is at liberty to shape its prosecution policy in line with our national legislation, as long as there is a good reason.’
According to Brouwer, this could also be applied to regulating the production of cannabis. ‘Growing cannabis is a punishable offence in the Netherlands, in line with the convention obligations. But this doesn’t mean that offenders are always punished.’ He points out that many other countries have now overtaken the Netherlands in terms of liberalizing their approach to soft drugs.
‘We seem to be suffering the effects of the law of the dialetics of progress, and are now lagging behind. In the United States alone, 21 states have more liberal legislation than we do. In fact Colorado and Washington don’t even use the convention exemption ‘medicinal cannabis’ to avoid the terms of the UN conventions, like other states do. They have simply legalized cannabis.’
The Dutch government could therefore permit cannabis production on a much larger scale than is now the case, complete with user instructions and controlled THC content. ‘At present, we have just one official nursery for medicinal cannabis in Veendam, which is doing very well. An experiment with regulated cannabis production would fit in perfectly with current Dutch drugs policy, as it did when we introduced coffee shops all those years ago. It would undermine organized crime, and the strength of the cannabis could easily be toned down. My students tell me that users don’t particularly want really high THC levels anyway. It would also enable us to monitor the use of pesticides in the cannabis we grow.’
Municipal authorities cannot wait to start experimenting with cannabis production, says Brouwer. ‘In Utrecht, for example, users have set up a local authority-controlled social cannabis club, in which the members will jointly grow the maximum amounts that each of them is allowed according to the ‘for personal use’ category. It’s a system that was developed in Spain and I don’t think that the courts can ban it. But even without this system of growing cannabis for personal use only, there is still enough leeway in the UN conventions for the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute punishable offences, in line with our national legislation. As long as the Netherlands ensures that neighbouring countries have no adverse effects from our regulated cannabis production, the decision about whether to allow people to grow cannabis is a political one.’
Jan Brouwer is Professor of General Law Studies. He focuses on issues relating to public order and security, and is director of the Centre for Public Order and Security (Centrum voor Openbare Orde en Veiligheid). Brouwer has been publishing articles on drug-related problems, and the administrative-legal approach to solving them, since 1996.
Regulated cannabis production and treaty law
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