A newly released study entitled “What can we learn from the Dutch cannabis coffeeshop system?” was conducted by University of California Berkeley Law and Policy Professor Robert MacCoun, in which he closely examined the observable consequences of officially tolerated cannabis sales in the Netherlands while exploring the implications of those consequences in the context of debating marijuana legalization.

Prof MacCoun’s conclusions are far from the perception that many foreigners have of Holland as being a nonstop Haight-Ashbury street pot party. Rather, the MacCoun finds that Dutch patterns of pot use have only increased or declined modestly based on the prevalence (or absence) of coffeeshops since 1976, when the Netherlands adopted a formal policy of non-enforcement of possession and sale of less than 30 grams of cannabis (approximately an ounce).


Coffeeshops do not appear to escalate usage or lengthen the duration of time one smokes cannabis in one’s lifetime, especially when compared to pot use in the United Kingdom and the United States. Furthermore, the study found the Dutch were less likely to indulge in hard drugs than their European neighbors, blowing another hole in the already paper-thin “pot is a gateway drug” argument.


In fact, Prof MacCoun found that cannabis consumption in the Netherlands is actually lower than would be expected for a nation with defacto legalization, which he attributes to the high pot prices created by the coffeeshop’s “cannabis monopoly” that exists on the retail level, as opposed to outright legalization, which would inevitably drive prices lower due to increased production and competition. MacCoun also speculates that full-on legalization would increase consumption, though such speculation can only be confirmed if a nation ever shows the courage to do so.  


Ultimately, while Prof MacCoun believes Dutch-like legalization would benefit the U.S., he questions whether the Dutch coffeeshop model can be applied to the legalization debate because the Dutch system is “quite different, far more nuanced…and ambiguous by design.” That ambiguity gives the Dutch government control over cannabis pricing, advertising and retail sales that would be difficult if not impossible if pot were to be fully legalized in a free-market economy.

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