Netherlands Country Drug Report 2017

Drug laws and drug law offences

National drug laws

The Netherlands Opium Act, which came into force in 1928 and was fundamentally amended in 1976, is the basis for the current drug legislation. It defines drug trafficking, cultivation and production and dealing in and possession of drugs as criminal acts. The Act and its amendments confirm the distinction between List I drugs (e.g. heroin, cocaine, MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamines) and List II drugs (e.g. cannabis, hallucinogenic mushrooms). In 2012, it was proposed that cannabis containing more than 15 % tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) should be placed in List I, but this has not yet been implemented. Furthermore, criteria defining the ‘professional cultivation of cannabis’ for prosecution purposes were also revised in the Opium Act Directive. New psychoactive substances (NPS) are regulated through amendments to relevant schedules of the Opium Act.

Drug use as such does not constitute a crime in legal terms. However, there are situations when the use of drugs is prohibited at the local level for reasons of public order or to protect the health of young people, such as at schools and on public transport. It is up to the responsible authorities —not the national government — to regulate this. The possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use is not subject to targeted investigation by the police. Anyone found in possession of less than 0.5 g of List I drugs will generally not be prosecuted, though the police will confiscate the drugs and refer the individual to a care agency. The threshold amount for cannabis is set at 5 g. However, in 2012, the Opium Act Directive was revised so that, instead of saying ‘a police dismissal should follow if a cannabis user is caught with less than 5 grams of cannabis’, it now states that ‘in principle a police dismissal will follow if a person is carrying less than 5 grams of cannabis’. This leaves open the possibility of arresting and prosecuting individuals in possession of less than 5 g of cannabis in certain circumstances.

Drug users are convicted when they have committed a crime such as selling drugs, theft or burglary. A special law — the Placement in an Institution for Prolific Offenders — was introduced in 2004 for the treatment of persistent offenders, of which problematic drug users constitute a major proportion. The measure consists of a combination of imprisonment and behavioural interventions and treatment, which are mostly carried out in care institutions outside prison.

The Opium Act sets out that supplying drugs (possession, cultivation or manufacture, import or export) is punishable, depending on the quantity and type of drug involved, by up to 12 years’ imprisonment. However, the Opium Act Directive sets out strict conditions under which cannabis sales and consumption outlets, known as 'coffee shops', may be tolerated by local authorities. In 2014, there were 591 coffees hops in the Netherlands.

Drug law offences

Drug law offence (DLO) data are the foundation for monitoring drug-related crime and are also a measure of law enforcement activity and drug market dynamics; they may be used to inform policies on the implementation of drug laws and to improve strategies.

In 2015, a total of 20 503 offences against the Opium Act were registered by the public prosecutor, fewer than in 2014. Slightly more than half of all reports were linked to List II drugs. The majority of offences related to List I was linked to possession.


Legal penalties: the possibility of incarceration for possession of drugs for personal use (minor offence)

NB Year of data 2015.

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