• Stefanie and Mallory

Dimensions of Drug Policy in the Netherlands

Authors: Erika Pauliukeviciute & Michelle Feng

Dutch pragmatism is pervasive in how the country has been historically shaped. From the humble yet consequential bicycle becoming a symbolic staple of the country, to controversial policies over abortion and euthanasia, the Netherlands has made a number of landmark decisions as a country that has never been seen before. Notorious for a globally unprecedented take on drug policy and regulation, the Netherlands is one of the governments that permit unconventional acceptance of drug use. Not only this, but it is also one of the only countries that has been successful in their implementation of drug policy as a whole (van Vliet, 1990). Proper education around drug use and transparency in government information have generally kept drug-related problems in the country at a minimum. (Malinowska, 2013). Contrary to popular belief, all drugs in the Netherlands are still technically illegal by law. The Dutch government, however, follows a policy of “geboogbeleid,” otherwise known as tolerance of soft drugs. The Dutch Opium Act created a definitive separation between soft and hard drugs: the former typically falling under the category of ‘crimes without victims’ and the latter including drugs that possess an intolerable degree of addictiveness or physical harm. (Gesley, 2016). Later reformed in 1976, the Opium Law set strict guidelines around protecting the individual use of soft drugs under certain restrictions. (Gesley, 2016). As long as the individual is not illicitly distributing or selling drugs, and maintains no more than the maximum amount of cannabis or hashish specified, then they cannot be prosecuted under law.

Looking at the successes and failures of this policy through the programmatic framework as discussed by Marsh and McConnell, we can say that the Netherlands has been ultimately successful in their implementation and outcome in the Opium Law. As described in “Towards a Framework for Establishing Policy Success,” Marsh and McConnell develop programmatic success in regards to three criteria - “effectiveness, efficiency, and resilience.” (Marsh and McConnell, 2010:568). Firstly, the operational use of the law is seen through the universal application of the law throughout the country. Though it has been eyed critically on every front of policy evaluation both internally and externally, the implementation has nevertheless been successful. As for the outcomes of the policy itself, reports show that lighter enforcement of drug laws has not led to more drug use. In fact, the national average of marijuana use (25.7%) is comparatively lower than both the United Kingdom (30.2%) and the United States (41.9%) (Malinowska, 2013). Not only this, but the efficiency of this policy has been clear -- the revenue generated by coffeeshops in the Netherlands is upwards of 400 million euro annually, with the money often invested directly back into public health, social inclusion, and harm reduction. (Malinowska, 2013). Looking at the policy through a cost-benefit analysis, there is a clear positive relationship between the use of resources and overall benefit for the country. Lastly we identify the successes between the actors involved with the policy and the interests associated amongst them. This policy has gained widespread attention and has put the Netherlands in the spotlight internationally, as debates of morality and ethics of drug use are repeatedly put into question. Consequently, there have been direct effects upon political affiliation, whereas naturally both proponents and opponents of the policy influence commentary from the media, external reports, and press releases worldwide. Overall, drug policy in the Netherlands has been, for the most part, successful in its decriminalization of soft drugs, allocation of resources, and implementation of objectives as a whole.


Gesley, Jenny. (2016) “Decriminalization of Narcotics: Netherlands.” Decriminalization of Narcotics: Netherlands, 1 July 2016,

Malinowska, Kasia. (2013) “For Safe and Effective Drug Policy, Look to the Dutch.” Open Society Foundations, 16 July 2013,

Marsh, D. and McConnell, A. (2010) ‘Towards a framework for establishing policy success’, Public Administration, 88(2), pp. 564–583. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9299.2009.01803.x.

van Vliet, Henk Jan (1990) "The Uneasy Decriminalization: A Perspective on Dutch Drug Policy," Hofstra Law Review: Vol. 18: Iss. 3, Article 7.

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This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No694266)