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 should be placed in List I, but this has not yet been implemented. The Opium Act is implemented by the national Opium Act Directive to prosecutors, which is periodically revised; for example, criteria defining the ‘professional cultivation of cannabis’ for prosecution purposes were revised in the Directive in 2016. New psychoactive substances are regulated through amendments to relevant schedules of the Opium Act. For example, in May 2017, 4-fluoroamphetamine was listed as a List I drug, because severe emergencies and deaths related to this drug had occurred.
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 March 2017, there were 567 ‘coffee shops’ in the Netherlands.
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 legally punishable by imprisonment, but is not subject to targeted investigation by the police. Anyone found in possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use 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 to leave open the possibility of arresting and prosecuting individuals in possession of less than 5 g of cannabis in certain circumstances: instead of ‘a police dismissal should follow if a cannabis user is caught with less than 5 grams of cannabis’, it now states ‘in principle a police dismissal will follow if a person is carrying less than 5 grams of cannabis’.
People who use drugs can be 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 Law — was introduced in 2004 for the treatment of persistent offenders, of whom problem 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.
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 2016, a total of 21 118 offences against the Opium Act were registered by the public prosecutor, more than in 2015. 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.