Updated on December 28, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The Netherlands has long been known for its tolerant stance toward cannabis. Visitors and residents can easily access it in Amsterdam’s infamous “coffee shops,” or on the street. But what many don’t realize is that the country also has one of the most advanced medical marijuana programs in the world.
Overseen by a government agency, medical marijuana found in Dutch pharmacies is safe and effective. The Netherlands takes a realistic approach to drug management — cannabis, though not legal, has been decriminalized for personal use.
In 2001, the Dutch government established the Office of Medical Cannabis (OMC) was established after learning many people purchasing marijuana on the streets were doing so for its medicinal properties. The OMC is responsible for:
The OMC’s main responsibility is to guarantee the quality of the cannabis grown by official producers in the Netherlands. Although they have recommended criteria for which patients can pursue medical marijuana, they leave it up to physicians to use their discretion when writing cannabis prescriptions.
The pragmatic approach the Dutch have taken to marijuana usage by their citizens is quite unlike any narcotic laws in the world. They believe cannabis can used responsibly, much like alcohol or tobacco.
To focus on the narcotics they felt were more dangerous, the government differentiated between soft and hard drugs. In 1972, they established the Policy of Tolerance, which allowed soft drugs to be treated with more leniency. Although it was technically still illegal, the personal use of soft drugs, like marijuana, was decriminalized. The Netherlands was the first country to do this.
This decriminalization opened the door to the now famous “coffee shops” throughout the country, where marijuana is sold to locals and tourists alike. It also opened a thriving market for marijuana to be sold on the streets.
When the government discovered many patients struggling with debilitating conditions used cannabis to treat themselves, they wanted to ensure the safety and efficacy of these products. This lead to the 2001 establishment of the OMC. By 2003, marijuana medications, commonly called Mediwiet, became available in Dutch pharmacies.
Even though marijuana is still technically illegal, the Policy of Tolerance allows people to possess it for personal use. If someone doesn’t have a prescription for cannabis, they can have up to five grams of marijuana in their possession. However, the police may confiscate the weed.
Patients with active prescriptions for medical marijuana can possess their prescribed dosage without fear of detainment by the authorities.
Cultivating medical marijuana is a tricky topic. Legislation is in the Dutch Parliament that would make cultivation legal for authorized businesses. Currently, however, it is illegal to produce cannabis. Even so, people found growing up to six marijuana plants for personal use are rarely prosecuted, unless they’re selling or distributing the weed.
A doctor in the Netherlands can only prescribe medical marijuana if traditional treatment options are either ineffective or cause unwanted side effects. The OMC recommends prescribing medical cannabis for:
Physicians are not limited to this list, however. They’re free to use their own judgment and recommend cannabis for other conditions if they feel it’s right for the patient.
Unlike state-run medical marijuana programs in the United States, the Netherlands doesn’t require patients to register with the OMC for medical cannabis cards. Instead, they leave the matter up to the patient’s physician. If other treatments aren’t working for a patient’s condition, they can ask their doctor for a medical marijuana prescription.
The country requires doctors to ensure a patient has attempted other options before prescribing medical marijuana. Once they have a prescription, patients can go to any Dutch pharmacy that carries Mediwiet. The doctor will write out the dosage and type of medication the patient is to receive. There are three main types of medical marijuana available in Dutch pharmacies:
Here are a few additional facts about cannabis use in the Netherlands:
For patients with a prescription, there is no penalty if they possess only their prescribed dosage. Even if an individual has cannabis purchased from the street, they can have up to five grams without fear of prosecution. The worst that could happen is that the police may confiscate illegally purchased weed.
What began in the Netherlands is now spreading across the globe. Lawmakers throughout Europe and beyond are adopting medical marijuana programs to meet the needs of suffering patients. You can explore the cannabis laws of the Netherlands and other nations at MarijuanaDoctors.com.
Our resource pages can also keep you informed about important medical marijuana-related topics. Plus, our blog touches on some of the most frequently asked cannabis questions. At MarijuanaDoctors.com, we’re here to keep you informed.