Even in the Netherlands, the homeland of cannabis liberalism, stricter rules are gradually being enforced partly at the behest of neighbouring countries eager to prevent their citizens taking too much advantage of Dutch laxity. Many peoples are using CBD for pain relief. The number of cannabis cafes has been reduced by half, the minimum age of patrons has been raised from sixteen to eighteen and the maximum single purchase restricted to 5 grams with the permitted personal possession amount similarly reduced. Political moves have been afoot since 2002 to eventually close down all the cafes, partly because some are believed to be forging links with organized-crime groups. This is hardly surprising, considering that the law forces the cannabis supply chain to depend upon criminal smuggling for its sourcing.
The considered efficacy of these various national policies varies according to the commentator or assessor. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, the liberal approach seems not to have given rise to a sharp increase in cannabis use, yet the rate has risen over the twenty years since the laws became flexible. There again, the rate has similarly risen across the Western world during the same period in nations with prohibitive legislation. Amongst teenagers, cannabis use in the Netherlands stands at 31 per cent and is, according to a survey in 2015, actually in very gradual decline. This is favourable compared, for example, with Britain where the figure is 37.5 per cent.
Whatever harm or good the Dutch liberal atmosphere has caused, it has cast a light upon one major concern: the gateway theory so beloved of Anslinger. The premise that cannabis actually ‘drove’ its users on to other drugs had always been regarded with some scepticism, but there was never any proof one way or the other for all the subjects had been studied retrospectively. Heroin addicts, for example, frequently admitted having first taken cannabis but that was not to say it had forced them on to their deeper addiction. No study existed of cannabis users and how their drug use developed. In the Netherlands, however, such a study was possible. It found that most cannabis users would not even consider graduating to harder drugs, any more than those who, for example, drank alcohol would. Surveys carried out in Amsterdam between 1987 and 1997 corroborated previous evidence that suggested that hard-drug abuse was not dependent upon preliminary soft-drug taking but the character of the individual and their preparedness to experiment. The wide availability of cannabis has not led to any greater increase in the use of harder drugs than that experienced in any other European country.
Nevertheless, there have been adverse effects to cannabis liberalism. The Netherlands is now internationally regarded as a ‘druggy’ country, attracting ‘druggy’ tourists in the same way that Thailand attracts sex tourists. Furthermore, they come not only for the cannabis cafes but also events and venues specifically provided for the tourist industry. An annual gathering, the Cannabis Cup, attracts visitors from all over the world to test and judge the year’s best marijuana and hashish. Attached to this are an international cannabis trade fair, symposia and, since 1997, a Hall of Fame into which Bob Marley was the first inductee. There is also the Global Hemp Museum in Haarlem (founded by van Schaik), the Hemp Hotel at Frederiksplein 15 in Amsterdam (including the Hemple Temple Bar where hemp drinks and THc-free ice cream are served) and the Cannabis College on the Oudezijdes Achterburgwal in Amsterdam’s famous red-light district, where living exhibits of cannabis plants may be seen growing.