The Dutch government said on Friday it would move to classify high-potency marijuana alongside hard drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, the latest step in the country’s ongoing reversal of its famed tolerance policies.
The decision means most of the cannabis now sold in the Netherlands’ marijuana cafes would have to be replaced by milder variants. However, skeptics said the move would be difficult to enforce, and that it could simply lead many users to smoke more of the less potent weed.
Possession of marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but police do not prosecute people for possession of small amounts and it is sold openly in designated cafes. Growers are routinely prosecuted if caught.
Dutch Economic Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen said marijuana containing more than 15 percent of its main active chemical, THC, is so much stronger than what was common a generation ago that it should be considered a different drug entirely.
The high potency weed has “played a role in increasing public health damage,” he said at a press conference in The Hague.
The Dutch Cabinet has not said when it will begin enforcing the rule.
Jeffrey Parsons, a psychologist at Hunter College in New York who studies addiction, said the policy may not have the benefits the government is hoping for.
“If it encourages smoking an increased amount of low-concentration THC weed, it is likely to actually cause more harm than good,” he said, citing the potential lung damage and cancer-causing effects of extra inhalation.
The Dutch Justice Ministry said on Friday it was up to cafes to regulate their own products and police would seize random samples for testing.
However, Gerrit-Jan ten Bloom-endal, spokesman for the Platform of Cannabis Businesses in the Netherlands, said implementing the plan would be difficult “if not impossible.”
“How are we going to know whether a given batch exceeds 15 percent THC? For that matter, how would health inspectors know?” he asked.
The ongoing Dutch crackdown on marijuana is part of a decade-long rethink of liberalism in general that has seen a third of the windows in Amsterdam’s famed prostitution district shuttered and led the Netherlands to adopt some of the toughest immigration rules in Europe.
The number of licensed marijuana cafes has been reduced, and earlier this year the government announced plans to ban tourists from buying weed.
That has been resisted by the city of Amsterdam, where the marijuana cafes known euphemistically as “coffee shops” are a major tourist draw.
The Trimbos Institute says the average amount of THC in Dutch marijuana is currently about 17.8 percent. It has been declining since 2004 after increasing steadily from 4 percent or so in the 1970s.
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