What Can We Learn from the Dutch Cannabis Coffeeshop Experience?

by Robert J. MacCoun

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In 1976 the Netherlands adopted a formal written policy of non-enforcement for violations involving possession or sale of up to 30 grams of cannabis. In the US, the "gateway theory" is usually seen as an argument for being tough on cannabis, but surprisingly, the notion of a gateway effect was part of the impetus for allowing coffeeshops to sell small quantities. Rather than seeing an inexorable psychophamacological link between marijuana and hard drugs, the Dutch hypothesized that the link was sociological, and they sought a way to "separate the markets" to keep soft drug users out of contact with hard drug addicts and dealers. The Dutch experience is challenging to characterize, because it is a moving target. The Dutch policy continues to evolve in response to internal and external political pressures as well as the nation's inherently pragmatic "learning by doing" orientation to drug problems. The purpose of this paper is to see what California can learn about potential policy options and outcomes by drawing on the Dutch experience.

The research in this report was conducted by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.

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