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Dutch cannabis experiment could see more patients turning to coffee shops

A four-year experiment aims to try and solve the Netherland’s ‘backdoor’ cannabis criminality problem.

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Recreational cannabis use has been tolerated within the walls of the Netherland's coffee shops since the 1970s

A four-year experiment to try and solve the Netherland’s ‘backdoor’ cannabis criminality problem could see patients turning to coffee shops for easier access.

The cultivation and sale of cannabis for recreational purposes are strictly prohibited in the Netherlands – unless you are visiting one of the country’s famous coffee shops.

These establishments are allowed to sell small amounts of cannabis but operate under strict rules, including a limited stock of 500 grams.

On a municipal level, authorities can decide how many coffeeshops it will allow if any, and as the country deals with a growing number of “drug tourists”, individual municipalities can choose to ban foreign visitors from entering the region’s coffee shops.

Although the sale of the drug is tolerated, coffee shops face a contradiction in Dutch law known as the ‘backdoor policy’. Shops can sell the drug to their customers, but their suppliers are forbidden from cultivating and selling cannabis to them. In other words, sales through the front door are allowed, while sales through the backdoor are not.

“As a result of the policy of tolerance, the sale of cannabis to users is permitted, but the cultivation, sale and purchase of that cannabis is prohibited, which easily leads to crime. After all, the coffee shop needs to be supplied,” said Ellen Gielen, head of the life sciences group at global law firm, CMS and co-author of the company’s ‘Expert Guide on Cannabis Legislation’.

“The discussion to legalise the supply of coffee shops with cannabis has been going on for several years.”

A 2008 “weed summit” brought together 33 Dutch mayors from various municipalities and different political parties to discuss drug tourism in border regions. A survey carried out by the evening newspaper NRC Handelsblad revealed that 80 percent of the mayors in attendance were in favour of ‘regulating the backdoor’.

Over a decade later, the Netherlands is now embarking on an experiment across ten municipalities to evaluate the effects of a closed supply chain for coffeeshops.

Ten commercial cultivators will be made exempt from current laws, allowing them to sell and deliver quality-controlled cannabis to a total of 79 coffee shops.

The experiment is known as the ‘controlled cannabis supply chain experiment’.

The legally produced cannabis will have to be lab-tested and meet the Dutch government’s quality, labelling and packaging requirements. But there will be no limit to the THC concentration and producers can set their own pricing.

Cultivators applied to be part of the study in July 2020 and are due to be selected this month before the Dutch government kick starts the four-year experiment.

“The aim is to see if and how cultivators can supply quality-controlled cannabis to coffee shops in a decriminalised way,” Gielen added.

“In addition, the government wants to examine the effects of the experiment on the problems that some municipalities experience – for instance, on crime and public health.

“The experiment means that more suppliers and cultivators are contracted by the government and there are more options for the sale of seeds and or cannabis.”

Gielen anticipates that recreational use through coffee shops will, in part, substitute medicinally prescribed cannabis.

“Doctors are holding back from prescribing cannabis and health insurance companies, in general, do not reimburse for medicinal cannabis,” Gielen said.

“Some patients therefore choose to get their cannabis at coffee shops.”

Although it has been legal for any physician to prescribe medical cannabis in the Netherlands since 2003, treatment guidelines do not encourage prescribing due to the lack of clinical evidence.

“Especially now that the government is planning to supervise the supply and quality through the experiment, expectations are that medicinal users will switch to the freely available recreational cannabis, as they have to pay for it anyway.”

A research consortium that includes Breuer & Intraval, Rand Europe and the Trimbos Institute was commissioned by the Dutch government and will carry out an evaluation over the four-year period.

The consortium will investigate the impact of the experiment on health, user experience, nuisance and displacement effects.

Stijn Hoorens cannabis experiment

Stijn Hoorens, senior research leader at RAND Europe

“We will conduct numerous interviews with coffeeshop owners, municipalities, police and other stakeholders,” said Stijn Hoorens, senior research leader at Rand Europe.

“We will count coffeeshop visitors and conduct a survey amongst customers and ask them about their purchasing and consumption behaviour.”

The Trimbos Institute, meanwhile, will take cannabis samples from coffeeshops in both experimental and control cities and have them lab-tested and compared.

“At RAND, we will also aim to measure some of the developments outside the coffeeshops and whether we could observe any displaced effects on the illegal market,” Hoorens continued.

“This is very difficult, because we don’t have a reliable picture of what’s happening in the illegal market in the first place, let alone as a consequence of the experiment, but we’ll try.”

The results from the ten multiplicities involved with the experiment will be compared with a control group of ten other regions where the current laws are maintained.

The conclusions of the study will later be used by the government to decide on its next steps for designing the future of cannabis policy, however Hoorens said the main objective was not to reduce illegal production or curb organised crime.

“The primary objective is to test whether it is at all possible, or feasible to design, operate and enforce a closed supply chain for decriminalised cannabis,” Hoorens said.

“If the main actors in the supply chain, producers, distributors, coffee shops, consumers, local authorities and law enforcement are happy, the experiment has succeeded. However, we are also asked to attempt to measure the effects on public health, public safety, nuisance, crime, and displacements effects.”

At such an early stage, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the experiment, but Hoorens believes it is unlikely that the “backdoor” policy will still exist in the Netherlands after the four-year experiment.

“We have a number of hypotheses that we will test, but anything could happen,” Hoorens added.

“If customers don’t like the legally produced cannabis, the illegal market might thrive. If the legal products turn out to be a success, there might be a displacement from the illegal market, and perhaps even from other cities towards the coffee shops in intervention cities.

“I think it’s fair to say, that it is unlikely that the situation with a decriminalised front door and a criminalised back door will still be present in the Netherlands.”

Industry

Isle of Man launches medical cannabis export sector

The Isle of Man is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

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The move could 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island

The Isle of Man government has declared it is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

In a big to create 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island, policymakers want it to become ‘a world-leading exporter’.

Applications are now open for licences to produce and distribute treatments on the island, as well as to use it as an export base.

The island’s regulator – the Gambling Supervision Commission – has set out conditions for the licensing of high-THC cannabis and hemp.

Enterprise minister Laurence Skelly said: “The growing global medicinal cannabis market provides significant opportunity for economic development in the Isle of Man, and the new regulatory framework and guidance will offer stringent and flexible licensing of a broad range of cannabis products, which ranges from outdoor grown industrial hemp to indoor grown medicinal products.

“The Isle of Man Government has every confidence that the GSC will provide a world class regulatory structure required to regulate this new and complex industry.

The Isle of Man wants to be a major player in Europe’s growing medical cannabis industry.

“I am delighted to welcome licence applications and look forward to attracting quality businesses to the Island, transforming the cannabis export sector into a key contributor to the Isle of Man’s post-Covid economic recovery.”

The self-governing British Crown Dependency, which has a population of 83,000, approved new medical cannabis laws in January.

The island’s parliament – the Tynwald – moved to attract the industry to its shores after a public consultation showed 95 percent of residents were in favour of the policy.

Mark Rutherford, director of policy at the island’s regulator, said: “The GSC already has a sophisticated framework for supervising gambling.

‘We have worked carefully to apply the best of that framework to the risks in the new sector and we have educated ourselves in the technical areas that are new to us.

“What we now have will ensure that all stakeholders will be competent, crime free and capable of building a sector that is safe, trusted and efficient.

“As regulators, we aspire to put our regulatory umbrella above as many consumers as possible so that they can benefit from regulations that are well thought out and properly supervised.

“Years of prohibition mean that the markets in which our licensees will be participating are still in their infancy and still contain many uncertainties.

“To address this situation, it is our aim to ensure that consumers who purchase Isle of Man products will be able to understand exactly what their product contains through accurate labelling and independent testing.

“The GSC recognises there are many stakeholders in this newly created field and intends to extend its ethos of cooperation with other government authorities into its approach to cannabis regulation.”

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Always Pure Organics announces major expansion to meet demand

Construction is underway on a new 10,000 square foot warehouse

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The APO team has grown from three people to over 50 staff members

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Always Pure Organics has announced that construction is underway on its new 10,000 square foot warehouse as part of a major expansion, here they reveal all.

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One of our latest projects involves expanding our Always Pure Organics facilities. Renovations began in early June and we are excited for the extra space that the expansion will afford our lab and operation teams.

Our CEO Gavin Ogilvie commented on the project: “We’re so proud of the growth we’ve achieved. In two and a half years the business has gone from three people working out of a bedroom to over 50 team members servicing 500 global clients.

“With this comes a responsibility to our customers and partners to continue to deliver the personal, quick and hands-on service that we have done historically. With the increasing demand placed on our operations and production teams this was becoming a mounting challenge. Therefore, we have invested heavily to overhaul and upsize our warehouse and clean rooms. This week we began the construction in our new 10,000 square foot warehouse.

“We want to offer the best products, with more variety, more quickly and with a better user experience than any of our competitors. This is just one step in achieving that.”

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The UK cannabis veterans taking on the industry’s big beasts

AltoVerde wants to shake things up in the industry which it believes has gone from counter-culture to corporate.

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The company plans to open a 10,000+ square metre cultivation plant in Macedonia

Meet the UK executive and cannabis veteran, aiming to take on Europe and North America’s established industry titans.

Mitesh Makwana is the director of AltoVerde, a start up company looking to establish itself as one of the continent’s big players.

The race is on to put roots down in Europe with several countries expected to expand patient access in the coming years – and even open up adult use markets.

Huge companies from across the pond like Tilray, Aurora and Bedrocan have already got boots on the ground, buying up companies and starting operations in places like Denmark and Portugal.

AltoVerde is aiming to be the new kid on the block and wants to shake things up in an industry which it believes has gone from counter-culture to corporate.

Makwana told Cannabis Health: “It’s become a completely different scene. We know that there might be a view that us industry veterans aren’t ready to take on this new market but we just plan to get our heads down and get on with what we know best.

“We understand that there are big regulatory hurdles, but ultimately there is one goal: getting a good end product to consumers at a fair price.”

This team of ‘veterans’, some of whom have almost two decades experience in the industry, have been in the game since paraphernalia and souvenir seeds were the only way to make money out of cannabis in Europe.

Mitesh Makwana

But things are changing. The medical cannabis sector in Europe is forecast to explode over the next few years and companies set up and ready to go when liberalisation happens stand to make a fortune.

Makwana said: “The team and our roots set us apart from the rest of the industry.

“Many of the people involved with company have been active in this sector for several years, people who’ve spent years honing their expertise in cultivation, breeding, plantation management, clinical trials, chemistry and extraction.

“This plant has a lot of amazing properties and we’re passionate about unlocking them for consumers and patients.”

The company has already completed an initial funding round and is planning a private subscription to raise further capital in the near future.

Deals to begin two manufacturing operations in Europe, including a 10,000+ square metre cultivation plant in Macedonia, are nearing completion and the company has longer term ambitions to carry out its own clinical trials.

It’s early days but the company has set out a five-year growth plan and is targeting £13.1m in inward investment.

Makwana told Cannabis Health, AltoVerde, which is headquartered in the UK, will be involved from seed to distribution and will respond to change in the market and regulations.

He said: “We’re setting ourselves up to be able to adjust to the way market demands shift over the coming years.

“With our expertise we know we can satisfy demand from the medicinal and wellbeing markets.

“We’re positioning ourselves up to take advantage whichever way regulations go and however the market changes.

“With our experience we know we can change and adapt.”

 

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