Buying cannabis in 'coffee shops'

Karin Monshouwer, Margriet Van Laar, Wilma A Vollebergh
Drug and Alcohol Review 2011, 30 (2): 148-56

ISSUES: The key objective of Dutch cannabis policy is to prevent and limit the risks of cannabis consumption for users, their direct environment and society ('harm reduction'). This paper will focus on the tolerated sale of cannabis in 'coffee shops'.

APPROACH: We give a brief overview of Dutch policy on coffee shops, its history and recent developments. Furthermore, we present epidemiological data that may be indicative of the effects of the coffee shop policy on cannabis and other drug use.

KEY FINDINGS: Dutch coffee shop policy has become more restrictive in recent years and the number of coffee shops has decreased. Cannabis prevalence rates in the adult population are somewhat below the European average; the rate is relatively high among adolescents; and age of first use appears to be low. On a European level, the use of hard drugs in both the Dutch adult and adolescent population is average to low (except for ecstasy among adults).

IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS: International comparisons do not suggest a strong, upward effect of the coffee shop system on levels of cannabis use, although prevalence rates among Dutch adolescents give rise to concern. Furthermore, the coffee shop system appears to be successful in separating the hard and soft drugs markets. Nevertheless, in recent years, issues concerning the involvement of organised crime and the public nuisance related to drug tourism have given rise to several restrictive measures on the local level and have sparked a political debate on the reform of Dutch drug policy.

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