Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

1. Cornerstones of Drug Policy in the Netherlands

"All recent policy documents state that the Dutch drug policy has two cornerstones - and this was confirmed by the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport during the major drug debate in the House of Representatives in March 2012: to protect public health and to combat public nuisance and drug-related crime (TK 24077-259; TK Handelingen 69-28 maart 2012). In the current Opium Act Directive the objective of the drug policy is described as: 'The [new] Dutch drugs policy is aimed to discourage and reduce drug use, certainly in so far as it causes damage to health and to society, and to prevent and reduce the damage associated with drug use, drug production and the drugs trade' (Stc 2011-11134)."

Van Laar, M.W., Cruts, A.A.N., Van Ooyen-Houben, M.M.J., Van Gageldonk, A., Croes, E.A., Meijer, R.F., et al. (2013). The Netherlands drug situation 2012: report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point. Trimbos-instituut/WODC, Utrecht/Den Haag, p. 16.

2. Policies in the Netherlands Regarding Prosecution for Drugs

"Police and Public Prosecutor give low priority to the investigation of possession of small amounts of a drug for own use. The Opium Act Directive of the Public Prosecutor state that, if the offence concerns possession of small amounts for own use of a hard drug, the drugs will be seized, but normally there will be no custody or prosecution. Diversion to care is the primary aim of custody or prosecution in cases of possession of hard drugs (Directive Opium Act 2011A021 2012, ‘Small amounts’ of a hard drug are defined as one tablet, ample, wrapple or ball of the drug and in any case an amount of no more than 0,5 grams. With regards to cannabis (categorized as ‘soft drug’) small amounts are defined as no more than 5 grams and no more than 5 cannabis plants – under the condition that there is no professional or commercial cultivation of the plants (Stc. 2011 – 22936). For hallucinogenic mushrooms, also categorized as soft drugs, the small amounts for own use are defined as 0,5 grams (dried mushrooms) and 5 grams (fresh ones). In cases of possession of small amounts of soft drugs, the drugs will be seized but a dismissal by the police will normally (‘in principle’) follow, without custody or prosecution."

Van Laar, M.W., Cruts, A.A.N., Van Ooyen-Houben, M.M.J., Van Gageldonk, A., Croes, E.A., Meijer, R.F., et al. (2013). The Netherlands drug situation 2012: report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point. Trimbos-instituut - WODC, Utrecht - Den Haag, p. 118.

3. Drug Use Prevalence in The Netherlands

"The most recent survey on drug use in the general population was conducted in 2009. However, due to methodological changes, the data are not comparable with those of previous surveys (1997, 2001 and 2005). Hence, recent trends cannot be described. In 2009 last year prevalence of cannabis use in the population of 15-64 years was 7.0% and last month prevalence was 4.2%. Almost one-third (30%) of the last month users had used cannabis daily or almost daily in the past month. The percentage of recent users of cocaine and ecstasy was almost the same (1.2% and 1.4%, respectively). Amphetamine remained least popular with 0.4% recent users.

"Cannabis use among pupils (12-16 years) from regular secondary schools showed a decreasing trend between 2001 and 2009. In 2009, 9% of the pupils had used cannabis in the past year against 14% in 2001. Four in ten recent users had used only once in the past year, and a minority was a frequent blower (40 times or more).

"Prevalence rates of drug use are appreciably higher in (local) studies among various subpopulations, including pubgoers and nightlifers (cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine), neighbourhood and hang-around youth (cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine) and men who have sex with men (ecstasy, cocaine, GHB). However, no higher levels but even lower levels of drug use (cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine) were found among first-year students.

"Various indicators strongly point at an increase in the (problem) use of GHB in some subpopulations both in and outside the nightlife scene. In 2009, 0.4% of the population between 15 and 64 years had used GHB and 0.2% reported use in the past month. These figures are comparable to those of amphetamine but much lower compared to ecstasy and cocaine. Higher percentages of GHB users are found among populations in the nightlife scene, although GHB is not by definition a club drug and use at home is also commonly reported."

Van Laar, Margriet, et al., (2012). The Netherlands drug situation 2011: report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point. (Utrecht: Trimbos Institute, Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction), pp. 11-12.

4. Drug Use and Crime Indicators, Comparison Between The US and The Netherlands

Click here for the complete datatable of Drug Use and Crime Indicators, Comparison Between The US and The Netherlands

1: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume II. Technical Appendices and Selected Prevalence Tables (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-38B, HHS Publication No. SMA 10-4586Appendices). Rockville, MD, p. 99, Table G.2, and p. 101, Table G.4.
2:  "The Netherlands Drug Situation 2011: Report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point" (Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction and the Ministry of Security and Justice Research and Documentation Centre, 2012), p. 40, Table 2.1.1.
3:  Walmsley, Roy, "World Prison Population List (Eleventh Edition)" (Kings College, London, England: International Centre for Prison Studies, 2016), Table 2, p. 5, and Table 4, p. 11.
4:  van Dijk, Frans & Jaap de Waard, "Legal infrastructure of the Netherlands in international perspective: Crime control" (Netherlands: Ministry of Justice, June 2000), p. 9, Table S.13.
5:  UNODC Global Study on Homicide 2013 (United Nations publication, Sales No. 14.IV.1), Table 8.1, p. 126 and p. 132

5. Comparison of Results from Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) and Roadside Saliva Drug Tests in Detecting Cannabis Use

"The SFST was mildly sensitive to the effects of cannabis alone. A dose of 400 ?g/kg body weight THC significantly increased the percentage of participants displaying impairments in OLS compared to baseline performance from 21 to 50 %. THC also increased percentage of individuals showing impairment on HGN from 0 to 15 %, relative to baseline, but this change only approached statistical significance. WAT [Walk And Turn] and the overall score on SFST did not discriminate between THC and baseline. These findings appear in line with previous studies that have reported a relation between impairment on the SFST and presence of THC in blood. A study that assessed which signs of the Drug Evaluation and Classification evaluations predicted various drug categories (including cannabis) at best showed that OLS [One-Leg Stand] contributed significantly to the prediction, but HGN [Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus] and WAT did not (Porath-Waller et al. 2009). Papafotiou et al. (2005a) assessed SFST performance in 40 healthy participants who received low and high doses of THC in a placebo-controlled study. On average, blood THC concentrations obtained after the highest dose were comparable to serum THC concentrations achieved in the present study after smoking cannabis. Yet, THC significantly affected performance on OLS, HGN, and WAT and appeared to be more prominent as compared to the current study. For example, in that study THC produced impairments on overall SFST performance in up to 50 % of the participants (Papafotiou et al. 2005a) but in only 30 % of the participants of the present study. These differences may be explained in terms of differences in cannabis use history. In the study by Papafotiou et al. (2005a), the reported frequency of cannabis use of the participants varied from once a week to once every 2–6 months. The present study however only included heavy cannabis users, who smoked cannabis on at least four occasions per week. Previous studies demonstrated that heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of THC on neurocognitive measures (Hart et al. 2001; Ramaekers et al. 2011). It is likely that many of the participants who participated in the present study, in part or in total, developed tolerance to the impairing effects of THC as well. In such a scenario, the failure of the SFST to demonstrate robust effects of THC is not necessarily an indicator of poor sensitivity, but may reflect the chronic cannabis use of the participants."

Bosker, W.M., et al., "A Placebo-Controlled Study to Assess Standardized Field Sobriety Tests Performance During Alcohol and Cannabis Intoxication in Heavy Cannabis Users and Accuracy of Point of Collection Testing Devices for Detecting THC in Oral Fluid," Psychopharmacology (2012) 223:439-446.