Colorado Legalization and The Netherlands Drug Policy


The purpose of this paper is to discuss the legalization of marijuana in Colorado as well as the Netherlands drug policy. It has been found that even though Colorado has legalized marijuana, there are provisions that must be followed. The Netherlands however have not legalized marijuana, but they do feel that seeing possession of marijuana is not a crime, so therefore marijuana is tolerated. Colorado’s society does not agree with this legalization due to adolescent use, however the Colorado Amendment 64 protects this. The Netherlands is seen as too liberal, but they are only doing what is in the best interest of the users. They focus more on helping the addict get better, rather then incarcerating them.

Keywords debilitating conditions, de facto legalization, Opium Act

Cannabis, or best known as marijuana is a drug that is easily accessible for those who seek it. In many states and countries, it is illegal to possess this drug, but over the years this has been changing. Not only has it been illegal, but also anyone in possession of marijuana can be arrested and prosecuted, but also that is slowly changing. Some people think that cannabis is 100% legal in both Colorado and the Netherlands, but this is not completely true. In Colorado it is only legal to a certain extent and in the Netherlands, it is not legal, but is tolerated. This will be discussed later. The main question is, with marijuana being legalized in Colorado and tolerated in the Netherlands, what is the affect of such legalization

The legalization of marijuana, for some, is not something to take lightly, but I do not think it is the worst drug. In my own opinion heroin and cocaine are two drugs that should not be legal because of the harmful effects they cause. Marijuana, in my own opinion is the lesser of the two evils, so if states and countries want to legalize it, they can do what they please. Now I know some people would disagree with me on this, but everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I would rather see marijuana legalized then heroin or cocaine.


Colorado’s legalization of marijuana began in 2000 with the Colorado Amendment 20. According to Davis, Mendelson, berkes, Suleta, Corsi & Booth (2015) the Colorado Amendment 20 legalized cannabis for medical use only. Even though this was true however, not just anybody was allowed to obtain marijuana. Any person wishing to obtain cannabis had to have a condition that was debilitating. “Debilitating conditions approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and included in Amendment 20 are cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, muscle spasms, and any other condition approved by CDPHE” (Davis, 2015, p.1). This Amendment lasted for nine years and in 2009, anyone was allowed to obtain medical cannabis. There was no limitation put on how many patients a doctor could see in order to give them medical marijuana. In the beginning of 2009, there had only been a few hundred applications for medical marijuana, but by October there were a few thousand.

The medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado began to grow due to such a high abundance of medical marijuana cards being issued. According to Schuermeyer, Solomonsen- Sautel, Price, Balan, Thurstone, Min & Sakai (2014) in 2010 there were 400 dispensaries that had their license to sell marijuana. In April of 2013, 376 dispensaries had their license, while 132 were pending. The number of dispensaries by April 2013 was up to 508. There was such a high demand for medical marijuana due to the fact that anybody was able to obtain it. In Colorado, by the time 2010 was over, there were more then 116,198 people who were going to dispensaries for marijuana. The question I have is, doctors that are allowing those to obtain medical marijuana, do they really think that all these people need it In my opinion I would see that some trend is going on and possibly require testing to see that marijuana is needed. I would not be one to keep writing approval for medical marijuana. However, the legalizing of medical cannabis took off and soon so would the legalization of recreational cannabis.

Medical cannabis was legalized in 2000 in Colorado and twelve years later, recreational cannabis finally became legalized. According to Schuermeyer et. al (2014) even though cannabis was legalized, there were some provisions. Just like if any other drug were to become legalized, there are always provisions. It is not something that will be a free for all. For example with alcohol, it is legal in the United States, but only persons twenty- one years or older may consume alcohol. The same is true for cannabis possession in Colorado. Anyone wishing to possess cannabis must be twenty- one or older and may not have more then an ounce in their possession at any given time.

In having to be twenty- one years of age, that is not the only provision that is required with legalized cannabis. According to Hawken, Caulkins, Kilmer & Kleiman (2013) any person who is of legal age to have marijuana are allowed to grow no more then six plants of marijuana in their household. The marijuana cannot be grown outside, it must be grown inside in a closed, confined space. These plants that are being grown cannot be sold, they may only be given away. Those who are buying marijuana in stores in Colorado are also protected under the smurf protection clause, which does not allow stores to ask for any ID unless it is just to check their age. For example, they cannot ask customers for their ID to record that they were there and bought marijuana, they may only ask for ID if proof of age is required. The provisions of legalizing cannabis in Colorado are nothing shy of what should be done. I know before I said that either way I am fine with cannabis legalization, but I do feel that there should be some provisions. Someone should not have ten or more plants growing in their house. These provisions are not harsh and are very reasonable.

Cannabis is legalized in Colorado, but it is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance. This still makes it illegal under federal law, however due to the Colorado Amendment 64, it is legal only within the state. According to Hawken and Kulick (2014) due to the Colorado Amendment 64, cannabis is legal to grow, sell and use recreationally. Any person who leaves Colorado is not to bring their cannabis with them and grow, sell or use it recreationally in another state where it is not legal. Colorado is protected by their Amendment and anyone in possession of cannabis cannot be charged with possession as long as they are carrying one ounce or less.

In legalizing cannabis, there were some discerning opinions about the legalization. Now some people might wonder to themselves, why legalize cannabis and not some other drug Why give people the right to legally have something that makes them high and impairs their thinking According to Hawken et. al (2013) heavy cannabis use does not have as many consequences as do some other drugs. Not only does it not have as many consequences, but also the legalization was done to help aid in the reduction of crime that was being committed (e.g. drug possession arrests). “According to data from the Colorado Court System, marijuana possession arrests have

dropped 84% since 2010. In 2010, 9,011 people were arrested for marijuana possession. Using the same data we are projecting 1,464 possession arrests for 2014” (Drug Policy Alliance, 2015). These statistics show that due to the legalization of marijuana, clearly possession arrests have seen a decrease. So after all maybe legalizing marijuana is a good thing to keep people out of jail. That is just something to think about.

When legalized medical and recreational cannabis surfaced, there were some discerning opinions. According to Schuermeyer et. al (2014) some concerns that society had were that legalization would lead to adolescent cannabis use recreationally and medically as well as children ingesting cannabis. Society was also concerned that the amount of crime and accidents would increase along with the increase in addiction. As stated above, the crime rate in fact went down since legalization. The concern of society was that adolescents would have access to cannabis recreationally and medically a lot easier, but the Colorado Amendment 64 law clearly states that nobody under the age of twenty-one years old is to possess cannabis. Now medically, if they need it, there is nothing that can be done. However if an adolescent is caught with marijuana and does not have a medical card, they can be charged with possession. I can understand where societies concern would be, but if Colorado Amendment 64 is followed, then there is nothing to worry about.

Another societal issue that arose from the legalization of cannabis is that some people are only growing, selling and using cannabis for the wrong reasons. According to Reuter (2014) there are some people who are taking advantage of the fact that it is legalized in order to make some money. In any society we know that this is going to be a problem. There will be some people who do things for the right reasons, while others do them for the wrong reasons. That is how society, in my eyes, works. Society in Colorado wants to see marijuana being used for the right reasons (e.g. a debilitating condition). In some eyes they feel people are taking advantage of the legalization when it should not be a matter that is taken advantage of.

The Netherlands

In the United States, Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana. In another country, the Netherlands, many think that they legalized marijuana, but in fact they have not. According to Korf, Riper & Bullington (1999) there was an Opium Act that was created in 1919 and this act made any type of drug, whether it is soft drugs (e.g. marijuana or hash) or hard drugs (e.g. heroin or cocaine), illegal to possess and to sell. In 1976 the Opium Act was revised and there was a distinction made between soft and hard drugs as to what would be considered a crime. In this new revision, the prosecution for marijuana was no longer in effect, but the prosecution for hard drugs were still existent. They had felt that marijuana is not that much of a bad substance that requires someone to be prosecuted for possession or use. They would just refer them to treatment if the use became an addiction. Due to this fact many began to feel that their policy is too liberal, but is it That is something to think about. Is prosecuting someone for using a drug that will not cause as much harm as heroin or cocaine the right thing to do or should a policy be put in place to help that person

The Dutch drug policy is intended to protect the health of users, those around them as well as society. “This policy also aims to restrict both the demand for and supply of drugs” (Korf et. al, 1999, p.455). In initiating this policy, their goal was to allow for drug users to receive help for their addiction. When it comes to marijuana users, in order to protect their health, they have the option of attending treatment programs. The same goes for those who use heroin and cocaine. Instead of sending them to prison, they will be sent to a treatment center, if they choose. This will be discussed more in detail later. The Dutch’s main concern is not prosecuting those for abusing drugs; their goal was to get those help who needed it. According to Koning & Kwant (2002) those who had an addiction were not looked at as criminals. This in turn decriminalized drugs especially marijuana. Now I know this seems contrary to the Opium Act that states hard drugs are reason for prosecution, they still are, but prison is not the answer, which will be discussed later.

When it comes to legalization of marijuana in the Netherlands, the Dutch do not feel that it should be legalized, but rather it should be tolerated. This means that someone can smoke in their home or at the coffee shop and it is still considered illegal, but it is more tolerated then hard drugs. According to Reuter (2010) marijuana in the Netherlands is considered a de facto legalization, which means that it can be used and sold, but cannot be produced for personal use. Someone is free to smoke it and sell it, but if they are growing it for their own use, that is not tolerated. In thinking about this, how does this make sense I feel here I am going to contradict myself with how I feel about marijuana legalization. How is it possible that someone can use and sell marijuana, but cannot use their own In my eyes allowing that would lessen the amount of drug deals that are occurring. If something were tolerated, would the Netherlands rather them use their own then make money off of what they grow That is something that I thought about as being more logical in this case.

In tolerating marijuana use in the Netherlands, anybody wishing to receive marijuana would just have to walk to the nearest coffee shop. According to Garretsen (2010) marijuana can be sold at these coffee shops, but under certain provisions. The coffee shops are not allowed to advertise that they sell marijuana, they cannot sell hard drugs (e.g. heroin or cocaine), no nuisance, anybody under the age of 18 is not allowed in the coffee shop and they are only allowed to sell 5 grams of marijuana per person per day. As long as coffee shop owners adhere to these rules, they cannot be prosecuted. The reason these coffee shops are around is to reduce the amount of illegal drug use that is occurring on the streets. “It seems preferable to buy the cannabis in a, up to a certain level controlled, selling point like a coffee shop rather than buying it on the, totally uncontrolled, black market” (Garretsen, 2010, p.487). These coffee shops are around so society has better control of not only what is being sold, but also how much is being sold.

One aspect that I took a look at was the treatment availability for those who have an addiction, whether it is marijuana or a hard drug. According to Koning and Kwant (2002) addicts who had been arrested, were not mandated to enter into long-term treatment. If they are however sentenced to a treatment program, they have the choice as to whether or not they want to go to treatment or prison. Many criminals will opt of out treatment and will want to be sent right to prison. Those who chose to go to prison would be sentenced to a prison treatment program. Even being in prison, this still does not help them receive proper treatment because the drugs will still be readily available for use whereas in treatment they are not. On the opposite end however, those who are considered to be mentally ill and pose a threat to not only themselves, but also society have no choice but to enter into treatment. They are not given an option.

In the Netherlands there is a treatment program that is utilized, but not for everyone. “It applies only to those persons who have been addicted for long term (more than five years), are arrested for an offence that permits for preventive custody, have been held in preventive custody previously during the year before the present arrest, and have been sentenced within the last two years” (Koning et. al, 2002, p.57). This type of treatment center is to help prevent crime that is related to any type of drug abuse and to readapt them. In this type of treatment, there are three stages that an addict will go through. In the first stage that lasts six months, the addict will go through detoxification, which will help them get back to living a normal life. In the second stage that lasts six to nine months, vocational training is done as well as helping them obtain a job. In this stage they will also be taught how to do things in which they like that do not involve drugs. The final stage lasts six to nine months in which they will leave treatment and are provided with housing or a room. They are not thrown out on the street like they would be in prison. The goal of this treatment is to return them to society as a readapted person.

In my opinion there is a need for an increase in treatment programs. According to European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2015) in 2013, there were 11,754 clients who needed to be entered into treatment and most of them were males with an average age of 32. However, the treatment centers are needed more for those who are addicted to marijuana, not heroin or cocaine. This is interesting because you would think that the hard drugs would be the ones that are being abused the most, but in tolerating marijuana usage, it makes it easier to abuse because it is readily available. This shows that there is still an abundance of people entering into treatment programs rather then going to prison. In these treatment centers this is where they can get the most help and have a chance of overcoming their addiction. It is not possible to do so within a prison due to the fact that drugs are readily available. Treatment programs are the best option for addicts because it is where they will see results.

The last aspect that I looked at in regards to the Netherlands was the impact the Dutch drug policy had on crime. According to Reuter (2010) there are less then 100 per 100,000 arrests for cannabis possession. As stated throughout the paper, this is mainly because being in possession of cannabis is tolerated as long as it is kept at 5 grams or less. If someone were arrested for cannabis, they will not be sent to a prison, they would be sent to a treatment center. Crime is also less due to the coffee shops. According to Garretsen (2010) those who are seeking marijuana do not have to seek drugs on the black market, they can obtain a controlled amount in a controlled setting. This in turn will reduce the amount of crime that is occurring. In my opinion I do not feel that more prisons are needed due to the fact that treatment facilities seem to have a better outcome for addicts. Not only that, but there is not enough crime going on that would require imprisonment. I feel that there is more of a need for treatment centers then anything.

Colorado and the Netherlands both have different aspects to the legalization of marijuana, but in some ways they are the same. When it comes to those being able to use, buy and sell marijuana there are provisions with each. These provisions must be followed in order to not violate any legalization or policy. Another aspect that they both have in common is that no arrest can be made for possession of marijuana. Colorado and the Netherlands are both alike when it comes to marijuana, but at the same token they are different. It is important to note that the main similarities are the provisions of the legalization.

Overall, when a state or a country states that something is legal, it does not mean that there are not provisions to follow. Something still may be illegal, but is tolerated and not seen as that much of a crime as other drugs might be. In Colorado, marijuana is legal whereas in the Netherlands, it is still considered to be illegal, but is tolerated. Society in Colorado does not agree with the legalization and feel that it opens up a door for adolescents to gain marijuana more easily whereas the Netherlands does not have any issues within society. This topic gave me a lot of insight into how two different areas view marijuana and what provisions are set into place in order to not violate the legalization or toleration.

I enjoyed researching this topic because it had me thinking about this issue and that maybe after all the Netherlands do not have such a liberal drug policy seeing as their crime is reduced, less people are entering into prisons and more treatment centers are being utilized. Many would see that that entering into treatment is a problem, but in my eyes that is a good thing because they are not being prosecuted for their mistakes, they have the option to get help and not be exposed to even more drugs in prison. The Dutch drug policy is not too liberal in my eyes, if anything it has helped their society.


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