Controlled substances

Controlled substances are divided in two schedules:

Schedule I: 'drugs presenting unacceptable risks', is subdivided in a (including among others opiates, cocaine, cannabis oil), b (Codeine), and c (amphetamines and LSD).
Schedule II: others substances is subdivided in a (includes tranquillizers and barbiturates) and b (includes cannabis).

Penalties for offences with regard to Schedule II are considerably lower than those for Schedules I.

Drug use and possession

The policy on drugs in The Netherlands is based on the distinction between "soft drugs" (cannabis) and other drugs or 'hard drugs'. This is the framework to understand the penal provisions of the drugs laws. Drug use is not a crime. However, it is prohibited in certain situations as, for instance, in schools and public transportation.

Possession of less than 0.5g of Schedule I drugs will generally not be prosecuted, though the police will confiscate the drugs and consult a care agency. As for cannabis a maximum of 5g will not lead to investigation or prosecution.

Coffeeshops are a de facto decriminalisation in order to keep people, especially young, away from other drugs. The sale of cannabis in coffeeshops, technically, is still an offence. However, prosecution only occur when owners do not meet certain criteria:

- no more than five grams per person may be sold in any one transaction and the coffeeshop is not allowed to keep more than 500 grams of cannabis in stock;
- no hard drugs may be sold;
- drugs may not be advertised;
- the coffee shop must not cause any nuisance;
- they are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages;
- no drugs may be sold to minors (under the age of 18), nor may minors be admitted to the premises.

The Mayor may order a coffee shop to be closed when the criteria are being disregarded. The ultimate result may also be the prosecution of the offender (both the proprietor of the coffeeshop and/or the client).

Possession of cannabis or other drugs for commercial purposes is considered a more serious offence than possession, production and sale for personal consumption, and will be prosecuted. The maximum penalty for possessing cannabis not exceeding 30 grams is 1 month imprisonment and/or a €3,350 fine.

If the substance is not cannabis the maximum penalty varies from imprisonment up to 1 year and/or a €6,700 fine for a small quantity (use quantity), to 8 years' imprisonment and/or a €67,000 fine for the production of these substances. The maximum penalties can be increased by one third if the same crime has been committed more than once.

Trafficking and drug related crime

Drug users are convicted when they have committed a crime such as selling, theft, robbery or burglary. Public and private premises (excluding coffeeshops) used for the sale of illegal drugs can be closed by the local authorities.

Importing and exporting of any classified drug is considered a serious offence. The penalty for hard drug trafficking can run up to 12 to 16 years. The maximum penalty for importing or exporting any quantity of cannabis is 4 years' imprisonment and/or a €67,000 fine. However, the maximum penalty for certain dealings with Schedule II drugs is 6 years of detention or a certain fine.

Suspension and substitution of sentences

Drugs addicts who have commited small offenses are let to take part in treatment programs. Already arrested drug addicts may opt for treatment by suspension of their custody as long as they enter an complete a treatment programm. Evenmore, part of a prison sentence could be substituted for socially useful work.


A breach of the law dealing with the trafficking in chemical substances that may be used in the production of drugs constitutes an economic offence and could be penalised with a maximun of 6 years' imprisonment, and fines of up to €670,000 per illegal transaction. All profits from these operations may be confiscated.

Harm Reduction Programmes

Needle and Syringe Programmes (NSP): 175 operational NSP sites, such as fixed sites, vending machines, pharmacy-based NSP sites and mobile NSPs operating from a vehicle or through outreach workers. Needles and syringes reported to be available for purchase from pharmacies or other outlets.

Opium Substitution Treatment (OST) based on methadone, buprenorphine, and heroin-assisted therapy. In addition, there exist 40 drug consumption rooms distributed nationwide.


The legal age for buying cigarettes is 16. Public transportation, shopping malls, tobacco shops, gaming establishments, restaurants, cafes, bars, festival tents, nightclubs and convention centers are smokefree. The smoking of cannabis in coffee shops is still permitted.


It is prohibited to sell alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of 16. People under that age will be fined if they have alcohol in their possession in a public place. After 16 they are allow to buy drink with a moderate alcohol content (beer, wine and spirits with less than 15% alcohol). From the age of 18 people are allow to purchase strong liquor. Vendors are obliged to request identification to verify the age of the purchaser.

A maximum blood alcohol content of 0.5 g/l for drivers is permitted. The limit for new drivers is lower, at 0.2 g/l.