It is a pragmatic policy. Most policymakers in the Netherlands believe that if a problem has proved to be unsolvable, it is better to try controlling it instead of continuing to enforce laws with mixed results. By contrast, most other countries take the point of view that drugs are detrimental to society and must therefore be outlawed, even when such policies fail to eliminate drug use. This has caused friction between the Netherlands and other countries about the policy for cannabis, most notably with France and Germany. As of 2004, Belgium seems to be moving toward the Dutch model and a few local German legislators are calling for experiments based on the Dutch model. Switzerland has had long and heated parliamentary debates about whether to follow the Dutch model, most recently deciding against it in 2004; currently a ballot initiative is in the works on the question. In the last few years certain strains of cannabis with higher concentrations of THC and drug tourism have challenged the current policy and led to a re-examination of the current approach.
Netherlands has a high anti-drug related public expenditure, the second highest drug related public expenditure per capita of all countries in EU (after Sweden). 75% is law enforcement expenditures including police, army, law courts, prisons, customs and finance guards. 25% is health and social care expenditures including treatment, harm reduction, health research and educational including prevention and social affairs interventions.
Large-scale dealing, production, import and export are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, even if this does not supply end users or coffeeshops with more than the allowed amounts. Exactly how coffeeshops get their supplies is rarely investigated, however. What is certain is that coffeeshops do sell cannabis that comes from countries where it is illegal. The average concentration of THC in the cannabis sold in coffeeshops has increased from 9% 1998 to 18% 2005. One of the reasons is plant breeding and use of greenhouse technology for illegal growing of cannabis in Netherlands. The soft drug policy is not without flaws. It fails to address the issue of supply, which can promote problems of its own, such as the involvement of other drugs. Creating a highly controlled, legal production chain for cannabis to combat this problem has been proposed by a number of Dutch politicians over the last few years. By the end of 2005, the majority of the Dutch Parliament was in favour of an experiment with controlled cultivation and production of cannabis. The recent minister of Justice Piet Hein Donner announced in June 2007 that cultivation of cannabis shall continue to be illegal.
Cannabis remains a controlled substance in the Netherlands and both possession and production for personal use are still misdemeanors, punishable by fine. Coffee shops are also technically illegal according to the statutes but, as has been said, are flourishing nonetheless.
However, a policy of non-enforcement has led to a situation where reliance upon non-enforcement has become common, and because of this the courts have ruled against the government when individual cases were prosecuted.
This is because the Dutch Ministry of Justice applies a gedoogbeleid (condonance policy) with regard to soft drugs: an official set of guidelines telling public prosecutors under which circumstances offenders should not be prosecuted. This is a more official version of the common practice in other countries, in which law enforcement sets priorities as to which offenses are important enough to spend limited resources on.
Proponents of gedoogbeleid argue that such a policy offers more consistency in legal protection in practice, than without it. Opponents of the Dutch drug policy either call for full legalization, or argue that laws should penalize morally wrong or decadent behavior, whether this is enforceable or not.
In the Dutch courts, however, it has long been determined that the institutionalized non-enforcement of statutes with well defined limits constitutes de facto decriminalization. The statutes are kept on the books mainly due to international pressure and in adherence with international treaties.
Despite the high priority given by the Dutch government to fighting illegal drug trafficking, the Netherlands continue to be an important transit point for drugs entering Europe, a major producer and leading distributor of cannabis, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and other synthetic drugs, and a medium consumer of illicit drugs. The country has also become a major exporter of illicit temazepam of the "jelly" variety, trafficking it to the United Kingdom and other European nations. The Netherlands' special synthetic drug unit, set up in 1997 to coordinate the fight against designer drugs, appears to be successful. The government has intensified cooperation with neighbouring countries and stepped up border controls. In recent years, it also introduced so-called 100% checks and bodyscans at Schiphol Airport on incoming flights from Dutch overseas territories Aruba and Netherlands Antilles to prevent importing cocaine by means of swallowing balloons by mules.
Although drug use, as opposed to trafficking, is seen primarily as a public health issue, responsibility for drug policy is shared by both the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sports, and the Ministry of Justice.
The Netherlands spends more than €130 million annually on facilities for addicts, of which about fifty percent goes to drug addicts. The Netherlands has extensive demand reduction programs, reaching about ninety percent of the country's 25,000 to 28,000 hard drug users. The number of hard drug addicts has stabilized in the past few years and their average age has risen to 38 years, which is generally seen as a positive trend.
On 27 November 2003, the Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner announced that his government was considering rules under which coffeeshops would only be allowed to sell soft drugs to Dutch residents in order to satisfy both European neighbors' concerns about the influx of drugs from the Netherlands, as well as those of Netherlands border town residents unhappy with the influx of "drug tourists" from elsewhere in Europe. As of 2006 nothing has come of this proposal and Dutch coffeehouses still enjoy robust foreign patronage. The proposal is unlikely to come to part in practice since refusing citizens of neighboring nations any services of the sort conflicts with the European Union's policies surrounding the four freedoms.
In the Netherlands 9.7% of young boys consume soft drugs once a month, comparable to the level in Italy (10.9%) and Germany (9.9%) and less than in the UK (15.8%) and Spain (16.4%), but much higher than in, for example, Sweden (3%), Finland or Greece. Dutch rates of drug use are lower than U.S. rates in every category. The monthly prevalence of drugs other than cannabis among young people (15-24) was 4% in 2004, that was above the average (3%) of 15 compared countries in EU. However, seemingly few transcends to becoming problem drug users (0.3%), well below the average (0.52%) of the same compared countries.
The reported number of deaths linked to the use of drugs in the Netherlands, as a proportion of the entire population, is lower than the EU average. The Dutch government is able to support approximately 90% of help seeking addicts with detoxification programs. Treatment demand is rising.
Criminal investigations into more serious forms of organized crime mainly involve drugs (72%). Most of these are investigations of hard drug crime (specifically cocaine and synthetic drugs) although the number of soft drug cases is rising and currently accounts for 41% of criminal investigations.
In 2005, Gerd Leers, mayor of the border city of Maastricht, criticised the current policy as inconsistent, by recording a song with the Dutch punk rock band De Heideroosjes. By allowing possession and retail sales of cannabis, but not cultivation or wholesale, the government creates numerous problems of crime and public safety, he alleges, and therefore he would like to switch to either legalising and regulating production, or to the full repression that his party (CDA) officially advocates. The latter suggestion has widely been interpreted as rhetorical. Leers's comments have garnered support from other local authorities and put the cultivation issue back on the agenda.
By 2009, 27 coffee shops selling cannabis in Rotterdam, all within 200 meters from schools, must close down. This is nearly half of the coffeeshops that currently operate within its municipality. This is due to a new policy of city mayor Ivo Opstelten and the town council. The higher levels of the active ingredient in cannabis in Netherlands create a growing opposition against the traditional Dutch view of cannabis as a relatively innocent soft drug. Closing of coffeeshops is not unique for Rotterdam. Many other towns have done the same in the last 10 years.
The municipality of Utrecht imposed in 2008 a Zero Tolerance Policy to all events like the big dance party Trance Energy held in Jaarbeurs. However, such zero-tolerance policy at dance parties are now becoming common in the Netherlands and are even stricter in cities like Arnhem.
As of the Autumn 2008 the bill banning all magic mushrooms has not yet passed since there were still 188 questions which had to be asked and answered in the Dutch Parliament. The process should begin after the 2008 summer recess