The Netherlands Opium Act 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 Schedule I drugs (e.g. heroin, cocaine, MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamines) and Schedule II drugs (e.g. cannabis, hallucinogenic mushrooms). The Opium Act is implemented by the national Opium Act Directive to prosecutors, which is periodically revised; for example, since 2018, prosecutors have been asked, when appropriate, to consider (partially) replacing community service and prison sentences with a fine. New psychoactive substances are regulated through amendments to relevant schedules of the Opium Act.
Drug use itself is not specified as a crime, though 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 punishable by imprisonment, but, in practice, it 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; prosecution is considered only to refer an individual to a care agency. The threshold amount for cannabis is set at 5 g. Since 2012, the Opium Act Directive has left open the possibility of arresting and prosecuting individuals in possession of less than 5 g of cannabis in certain circumstances.
People who use drugs can be convicted when they have committed a crime such as selling drugs, theft or burglary. Since 2004, a special law — the Placement in an Institution for Prolific Offenders Law — has enabled 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.
The Opium Act states that supplying drugs (possession, cultivation or manufacture, import or export) is a crime punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment, depending on the quantity and type of the drug involved. However, the Opium Act Directive also 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 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 2017, around 18 700 offences against the Opium Act were registered by the public prosecutor, less than in 2016. Slightly more than half of the offences reports were linked to Schedule II drugs. The majority of offences related to Schedule I were linked to possession.