By Celine Leemhuis
Globally, cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance and for a long time, a topic of interest within the international drug control regime (Davis, 2017; Bewley-Taylor, Blickman, & Jelsma, 2014). The psychoactive substance is governed by the international drug control convention, which is signed by most of the world’s nations. The commitment of the nations to the international drug control convention, also known as the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, has led to the implementation of national prohibition laws that extend to both cannabis use and production (Rehm & Fischer, 2015).
Today, the international drug control regime faces challenges as it turned out that under a system of prohibition, the enforcement of cannabis laws results in extensive costs, high levels of arrests and criminal records in the population (Rehm & Fischer, 2015). In order to avoid these effects of cannabis prohibition, some nations choose a more tolerated approach towards their regulation of cannabis (Bewley-Taylor, Blickman, & Jelsma, 2014). The Netherlands is one of those nations; the monarchy maintains a tolerated attitude regarding the regulation of cannabis. The Dutch tolerate the buying and selling of small amounts in strictly controlled locations (coffee-shops), although the production and import of cannabis remains illegal (Spithoff, Emerson, & Spithoff, 2015; Monshouwer, van Laar, & Vollebergh, 2011; MacCoun, 2011). This remarkable regulation has resulted in the so-called backdoor problem of an illegal supply chain; as coffee-shop owners cannot obtain their stock supply legitimately, they are forced to buy their cannabis supply at the illegal market.
Currently, the backdoor problem remains unsolved in the Netherlands, leading to high pressure on the police and juridical system as the current policy is not considered as easy to control (Trimbos Instituut, 2009). As a solution to this, the Dutch parliament debated a bill that aims to legislate cannabis from seed to smoke. This regulation can solve the controversies of the current cannabis policy, as removing the cultivation and distribution of cannabis for commercial purposes from criminals and shoving it into the hands of licensed entrepreneurs or the government will undercut the black market and corresponding harms from corruption and violence (Armentano, 2010). Hence, Dutch coffee-shop owners can legitimately obtain their supplies. In addition, crimininal justice resources will save time and can be redirected towards other priorities, as the burden of cannabis-related crimes will be downsized (Caulkins et al., 2011).
If the bill passes the parliament, the Netherlands can take multiple models into account regarding the design and implementation of the cannabis legalization policy. Namely, the road to the legalization of recreational cannabis is not unknown; in 2012, Colorado became one of the first two jurisdictions of the United States of America that approved the legalization of cannabis (Ghosh, et al., 2017). Not short after, Uruguay followed in 2013, being the first country in the world that legalized cannabis from seed to smoke (Hoffman, 2016).
The success and failures of both Colorado and Uruguay can be a source of great information for researchers and policy makers who consider the legalization of cannabis. Therefore, the aim of this study is to create insight into the recreational cannabis policy of Uruguay and Colorado by conducting a comparative literature study. Consequently, this literature review can contribute to future research regarding the design and implementation of the legalization of cannabis in the Netherlands. The following research question is put central in this literature review: What lesson can be learned from Uruguay and Colorado regarding the legislation of recreational cannabis?