Holland was the first country in the world to legalise medicinal cannabis, when their pioneering Health Minister, Mrs. Els Borst, advocated for cannabis treatments in 1999. But it wasn’t until 2001 when the country began officially producing medical cannabis, after installing the Office of Medical Cannabis (OMC). In 2003, two companies were licensed to produce cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, one of which, Bedrocan, has become a major force in European cannabis.


However, Dutch cannabis laws are not without fault. Since the introduction of coffee shops in 1976, Amsterdam’s growing cannabis market has increasingly been supplied by criminal organisations operating in the shadows. Additionally, a lack of cannabis cultivation licences, since 2003, has allowed Bedrocan to develop a monopoly over the supply of medical cannabis.

 (Amsterdam Coffee Shops, Photo Credit: Talking drugs)

(Amsterdam Coffee Shops, Photo Credit: Talking drugs)

The Dutch government is looking to reform this approach, experimenting with a series of government-controlled licences for domestic cannabis growers in order to supply a series of coffee shops in a selected number of municipalities. The government will then compare the original model to the new model in terms of cannabis quality, health impact and legislation. Following the four year project the government will look to create a long-term supply and retail program, as the government seeks more control of a recreational market worth an estimated value of €1 billion per annum.


We spoke to Dr. Arno Hazekamp, Founder of Hazekamp Herbal Consulting and former Chief Scientist at Bedrocan, to understand the changes in the Dutch cannabis system.

 (Dr. Arno Hazekamp)

(Dr. Arno Hazekamp)

“There has always been a discussion about how we can amend the ‘back-door’ policy. Eventually the coffee shop became a tourist attraction which increased the demand for cannabis. Due to the fact that there was no state-run cultivation, supply became increasingly controlled by criminal organisations. As a result, the government is attempting to reform this system.”

“A committee, mostly composed of scientists, are now organising round table discussions, trying to understand how to correct the issue. The plan is to provide a series of government approved licences to independent growers that can, in turn, supply a selection of state-monitored coffee shops over the next four years.

“It is unlikely that these licences will go to large scale international medical cannabis companies but rather will be awarded to Dutch farmers in the well-known national greenhouse industries. While they are conducting this experiment the government will monitor the consumption of state run cannabis supplies and ‘back-door’ supplies to determine how much cannabis is needed, how many strains will be required and what is the best way of delivering the recreational cannabis.”  

- Arno Hazekamp


From a medical perspective, Bedrocan currently has a monopoly on the medical cannabis market and are capitalising on the emerging markets across Europe, through exportation. As of 2018, the government is looking to licence a second medical cannabis cultivator for R&D and domestic consumption, though they are unlikely to challenge Bedrocan for exportation licences over the coming years.


“Over recent years, medical cannabis is expanding quite fast, not only for recreational but for medical and scientific purposes as well. There are more clinical trials and more cannabis-based products being developed than ever. The Netherlands want to have an additional grower to produce standardised and quality-controlled cannabis, to stay in sync with the international developments in the cannabis industry. As a result, there was a tender published on the 28th February, and we expect that 100 - 200 national and international groups will register.”


“In fact, though highly contested, the market and opportunity for the successful candidate is not huge. The group will have only one actual client, which is the OMC, who will decide the use and destination of the cannabis. For instance, the office will decide whether it is processed for medicinal cannabis or tested for scientific purposes, but importantly, the private company will not have any power to export the cannabis abroad and thus, it is not likely to challenge Bedrocan’s established cannabis monopoly over the next few years. Nevertheless, a lot of good experience is out there, so it will be interesting to see how some good competition may shake up the market.”

- Arno Hazekamp


This year marks the first meaningful change to the cannabis system in generations, and with a wealth of IP and experience in the cannabis space, 2018 could be a landmark year for the Netherlands.


To read more about the Dutch cannabis system, read last year’s country review -

If you have any questions about the content, contact the author, Eoin Keenan at