Opium Law

The Opium Law (or Opium Wet in Dutch) is the section of the Dutch Law which covers nearly all psychotropic drugs. All non-psychotropic, but prescription-only drugs are covered by the Medicine Act.

Origin and history

In 1912, a global Opiumconference took place in the Hague, where agreements were made about the trade in opium, this initiated the introduction of the Opium Law, which took place 7 years later. In 1919, the first Opium Law(later known as List I of the Opium Law) was introduced, and on 12 May 1928 the second Opium Law(later known as List II of the Opium Law) was introduced. The first Opium Law was created to regulate drugs with a high addiction or abuse factor, or who are physically harmful. As the name referred to, the main reason for introduction was to regulate the Opium trade, and later to control various other addictive drugs like morphine, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, amphetamines and several decades later, benzodiazepines, which were used both medically and recreationally.

Except for the addition of new drugs to List I and II of the Opium Law, the Opium Law stayed unchanged until 1976. After the rise of a new youth culture which revolved much around the use of mind altering drugs like cannabis and LSD, and with hashish being openly used, a change of law was needed by the government, to properly control all drugs, but with a clear definition between drugs with an unacceptable degree of addictiveness or physical harm(known as hard drugs), and drugs with an acceptable degree of addictiveness or physical harm(known as soft drugs). In 1976 these changes officially took effect, and the Opium Law was edited to included the new changes of law. In the same year, a decision was also made by the Dutch government not to prosecute cannabis and hashish dealers, under the condition that they didn't sell hard drugs, didn't advertise and they were only allowed to carry a certain amount of cannabis or hashish.

In 1980, the decision to not prosecute cannabis and hashish dealers, under certain conditions, was publicly announced by the Dutch government. Many people thereby concluded that this decision would also allow the sale in coffeeshops, and coffeeshops began selling cannabis and hashish. This led to an enormous rise in the number of coffeeshops in the 80's and 90's, and because of this, new regulations were demanded by the government to regulate the sale of cannabis products by coffeeshops. In 1996 the laws were changed again to include new regulations for coffeeshops. The terms coffeeshops had to follow were:

  • No advertisement
  • No hard drugs
  • No entrance to coffeeshops by persons under the age of 18
  • No sale of more than 5 grams of cannabis products per person, per day

Since 1996, no new changes have been made to the Opium Law. New guidelines for coffeeshops have been made, but they are not covered by the Opium Law.

List I drugs

The following drugs and intermediates are classified as List I drugs of the Opium Law:

The esters and derivatives of ecgonine, which can be turned into ecgonine and cocaine;

The mono- and di-alkylamine-, the pyrollidine- and morpholinederivates of lysergic acid, and the thereby introduction of methyl-, acetyl- or halogengroups obtained substances;

Fiveworthy nitrogen-substituted morphinederivates, of which morphine-N-oxide-derivatives, like codeine-N-oxide;

The isomeres and stereoisomeres of tetrahydrocannabinol;

The ethers, esters and enantiomeres of the above mentioned substances, with exception of dextromethorphan (INN) as enantiomere of levomethorphan and racemethorphan, and with exception of dextrorphanol (INN) as enantiomere of levorphanol and racemorphan;

Formulations which contain one or more of the above mentioned substances.

List II drugs

The following drugs are classified as List II drugs of the Opium Law:

Formulations which contain one or more of the above mentioned substances, with exception of hemp oil.

Medical use

Even though List I substances are officially classified as hard drugs, several of them are often prescribed by licensed doctors. For example, nearly all opioids are List I drugs, but they are commonly prescribed to cancer and HIV patients, as well as sufferers of chronic pain, although prescriptions for opioids are very scarce due to fear of misuse, and they are only prescribed in situations where they are certainly needed, like the terminally ill. Two stimulants who are both prescribed for ADD/ADHD and narcolepsy; dexamphetamine and methylphenidate, are also List I drugs of the Opium Law. On the other hand, all barbiturates except for secobarbital are List II drugs, while none of them, except for phenobarbital, are prescribed today. In theory, a licensed doctor could prescribe any substance he/she thinks is needed for the correct treatment of his/her patient, both List I and List II substances of the Opium Law, though substances which aren't available as commercial pharmaceutical preparations have to be custom prepared by the designated pharmacy.

All prescriptions for List I and List II substances of the Opium Law(except for amobarbital, buprenorphine, butalbital, cathine, cyclobarbital, flunitrazepam, gluthethimide, hemp, pentazocine and pentobarbital) have to be written in full in letters, and have to contain the name and initials, address, city and telephone number of the licensed prescriber issuing the prescriptions, as well as the name and initials, address and city of the person the prescription is issued to. If the prescription is issued for an animal, the data of the owner should be used instead, and a description of the animal has to be included on the prescription.

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