This story is over 5 years old.

Why the Netherlands Weed Industry Has Gone Underground

The entire production process is still illegal and has been under fire since marijuana use was first allowed in the 1970s.
May 6, 2014, 7:35pm
Photo by VICE Netherlands

Once the world’s frontrunner when it came to marijuana legalization, the Netherlands has some new competition.

With Colorado and Uruguay have taken over the spotlight, and the Dutch government is now trying its luck with a new repressive policy.

Across several cities in the Netherlands, only residents are able to purchase cannabis. Foreigners and tourists are restricted from buying weed. In addition, the mayor of Amsterdam just received approval to ban weed shops in the city’s red light district.

Marijuana is still illegal in the country but authorities will not prosecute someone for having small amounts.

Legal weed in Washington state has been completely screwed Up. Read more here.

In the Netherlands, weed can be purchased in so-called coffee shops. Besides closing dozens of coffee shops it doesn’t look like smoking weed will be forbidden entirely in the next few years.

But the entire production and distribution process is still illegal and has been under the most scrutiny since marijuana use was first allowed around 1970.

For about 20 years, the Netherlands didn’t care much about enforcing production laws. But an anti-tolerance sentiment that started around 2001 and has taken a foothold.

The story behind every pothead's favorite number: 420. Read more here.

There is no better poster boy for this newly set course than organic weed farmer Doede de Jong. He was the last publicly known and outspoken cannabis grower of the Netherlands.

Doede has put himself forward as the civil rights activist for the Dutch weed smokers and growers.

Late last month, he got fined a quarter million euros and received a suspended sentence of two months jail time. He also has to perform 100 hours of community service.

But it’s not the punishment that’s out of the ordinary, it is the fact that the Dutch justice department has chosen to make an example out of the country’s most well known weed growing activist.

If Doede quits growing weed, the Ministry of Justice has finally succeeded in forcing cannabis production into complete obscurity.

VICE News has been in regular touch with the soft-spoken grower, and interviewed him after his conviction.

VICE: How are you doing?
Doede de Jong: I’m tired. I’m nearly 64, and I wish I could just sit down, relax, and enjoy all beautiful things around me. Don’t get me wrong — I still do stuff like that. I love nature so much; birds, butterflies, bees. But I’m so disappointed.

What did you expect the outcome of the trial would’ve been?
I don’t know, man. In my opinion it could’ve gone either way. To be honest, I thought I would be found guilty, but without any consequences. That has happened to growers in the past. At most a small fine — not a quarter million euros ($348,000). Do they seriously think I made that much money growing weed? Don’t get me wrong, I work hard to grow cannabis and I think it’s only just that one gets paid for hard work. But a quarter million euros is just ridiculous. You know, during the trial I had a feeling the judge liked me. I loathed the public prosecutor, and I thought she did too. That guy was exaggerating the whole situation so badly. In that sense, I thought I would even be acquitted due to accumulation of evidence

Accumulation of evidence?
Yes, the public prosecutor said they found over 5,000 plants at my place. Five thousand! That amount still makes me laugh. The prosecutor says I produced at least 213 kilos (470 pounds) of cannabis. Listen, if my harvest would’ve been three kilos (6.5 pounds) I would’ve been a very happy man. But this just doesn’t make sense. That’s accumulation of evidence, right there. They call it deceiving the court.

You can now get your weed from a vending machine. Read more here.

Why do you think they went after you?
It’s totally not about cannabis anymore — that much is clear. It’s just about getting an insurgent civilian back in line. But by condemning me, the government’s collaborating with criminals.

Why’s that?
Due to the continuously increasing repression by the Dutch government the amount of criminal weed-producers in the Netherlands only keeps on rising. A couple of weeks ago I read an article in a local newspaper about a coffee shop owner. He was quoted saying that these days it’s almost impossible for her to get her hands on good quality weed. Before, she used to get her weed from small, local producers — from people like me, people who love what they’re doing. Now she can only get her hands on a small number of cannabis strains, all of which are of poor quality. The weed she gets — for example — is soaked in liquid lead. By doing this, producers make 30 kilos of weed (66 pounds) into 50 kilos (110 pounds). Or they put hairspray on plants. It’s just sick what these criminal producers do with their weed. And if the government keeps on prosecuting organic cannabis farmers like me, there’s nothing left for coffee shops but to do business with those criminals.

Are there more organic weed producers like you?
Well, to be honest, I don’t know any of them.

Do you know any other producers at all?
Come to think of it, not really. These days everybody just shuts their mouth. Nobody dares to speak up anymore.

So nobody dares to grow weed, is that what you say?
Exactly. Last year some people in my village were growing a couple of small plants — it was totally innocent. Along with their three children they were thrown out of their home. It’s just ridiculous.

What remains, then, are criminal weed growers?
Yes. I heard this story on the radio. Two guys were arrested who had forced this young man to work for them and take care of their weed. They beat him regularly and tortured him for more than two years. They stapled his foreskin onto a piece of wood. Guys like that have now taken over this business. It happens more often, you know — they force an illegal immigrant to work for them and the poor guy can’t go anywhere. When they bust the house where the operation is going on, the immigrant is the one who’s fucked; the criminals are untraceable or say they just rented out the house and get away with it.

When you think back at how things were 30 or 40 years ago, did you know more fellow weed growers back then?
Yes, lots more. You see, in the 80s things were totally different. So many people were cultivating cannabis in those days. Some had 50 plants, some had 60. It was just fun to do, that’s all. It was more of a hippie-thing, you know? The harvest always was around autumn and then we’d throw a big party. We would make a fire, make music. People were dancing, drinking, smoking. But in the 90s indoor cultivation was on the rise and in its wake criminals entered the world of weed production. Suddenly everything was about making money.

How legalized marijuana could transform Jamaica. Read more here.

When and why exactly did this change occur, do you think?
That must’ve been around ‘94 or ‘95. The Dutch Minister of Justice in those days intensified repression when the president of France called the Netherlands a “narcostate.” It’s thanks to her that no one was allowed to have clones anymore, and instead of 35 grams (1.2 ounces) of weed or hash you were only allowed to carry 5 grams (0.17 ounces). While in ‘92 even the Ministry of Justice, Dutch police, and a couple of captains of industry were pro-legalization. The general mood was a lot more mild on those days, for sure.

What do you think caused this swing in public sentiment?
I think that especially Christian political parties are guilty of this. They disapprove of soft drugs on moral grounds. While they demand respect for their own hypothetical nonsense, they themselves don’t respect any other way of living but their own. I think they see cannabis as a rival for God. I’m not a religious person at all, but cannabis is a creation by their own God, right? And then what they attempt to do is to try and revise his creation. That’s pretty arrogant, if you ask me.

So, what’s the future going to hold?
Well, first I’m gonna lodge an appeal against the sentence. You know, I just hoped that by going public I was able to force a breakthrough in this ridiculous Dutch legislation concerning soft drugs. But I guess I failed.