If the quandaries of figuring out how to legally certify a cannabis market in both the U.S. and Canada have been filled with drama, the issues in Europe are going to be hardly less daunting.
In Germany right now, the entire debate is essentially being put in deep freeze with various excuses, including the ongoing pandemic, if not the war in Ukraine, despite the ongoing chatter about its inevitability.
Right across the Schengen border, the Dutch, the inventors of the eponymous coffeeshop, are now going through their own “growing” pains when it comes to creating a legal, certified, national market.
How Holland Is Trying To Certify Its National Industry
The coffeeshops that operate in the largest cities will still have their own uncertified cultivation. However, with the exception of these stores, the Dutch government established a national cultivation bid to supply ten cities with regulated cannabis. This is a trial program, which will also be studied to see how this entire idea works as well as its impact on the general population — including its ability to keep cannabis out of the hands of children and teenagers.
The trial is expected to kick off next year. At that point, the cannabis grown under the trial will be shipped to these establishments and every coffeeshop that is located in a municipality which is participating will be obligated to buy their cannabis from the government-certified program. If they do not, they will lose their permit. This does not mean that the coffeeshops will be limited to just one cultivator.
Ten growers, who won the right to participate in a cultivation bid, will supply this market — although at this point there are only seven who have qualified to do so. Growers must prove that they do not have a “criminal” past, and that they can secure their cultivation facilities.
The standardization of the weed biz however does not make the owners of coffeeshops in these locations very enthusiastic. Many people doubt that the cannabis they will get from these cultivators is up to the quality that they previously produced — and will almost certainly limit the selection of the cannabis on offer.
That issue has not been taken into consideration by the government. When the trial begins, coffeeshops in these municipalities will only have six weeks to sell through the self-cultivated cannabis they might have. Then they will be required to purchase from the government program.
Many shop owners wish that they were given more choice. Indeed, many are suggesting that there is a voluntary opt in rather than a mandatory requirement.
The Dutch government, however, is not giving them that option.
For that reason, many coffeeshops fear that they will then lose customers to the existing black market.
The Dutch government initiated a national trial program to attempt to control the entire supply chain of cannabis for recreational purposes in late 2019. Since then, a legal tender was created to select the cultivators allowed to grow such cannabis.
The trial program is intended to last for four years.
The process has been, rather predictably, frustrated with multiple delays including NIMBY protests from municipalities who objected to such cultivation taking place in their districts and even a slap suit by a large Canadian producer.
During the experiment, researchers will monitor the entire process. Based on the results of the trial, the government will then decide how to effectively implement policy for the long term.
Presently Dutch coffeeshops grow their own cannabis, and as a result, the entire process exists in a grey area of the law. This will not come to an end once the national trial starts. Establishments in the larger cities will still grow their own.
This trial is also set against a backdrop of increasing pressure on the existing coffeeshops, which includes perennial threats from government authorities to ban tourists from being able to drop into such establishments.
Will Other European Countries Follow the Dutch?
There is a great deal of attention on how the Dutch trial will proceed outside of Holland. This is particularly true in Germany which is now wrestling with how to make its own recreational system function. While Germany is not likely to allow establishments like coffeeshops to operate, at least at first, they are likely to set up a similar system of controlled cultivation — if they do not mandate that the original three medical growers are the initial providers of the same.
Regardless, it is clear that Europe is on the cusp of finally coming to terms with the fact that cannabis is not going to disappear.
Now the question is how to create a regulated, legal market that can protect consumers and bring in much needed tax income.
The Dutch, as usual, are in the forefront of this discussion.