After 30 years of tolerance the back-door problem (can sell but cannot purchase legally) is more and more on the political agenda. Some parties want to regulate domestic growing, others want to get rid of the hypocritical tolerance-policy. That policy roots over 30 years back. In the sixties, young people all over Europe started opposing the authorities. They grew there hair, listened to their own music, took sex out of taboo. Smoking pot, influenced by starts like Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Stones, was getting a high profile. Back then, the only way to get pot was through vague acquaintances or you had to grow a few plants in your back-garden. Domestically grown cannabis (Nederwiet, literally translated “Netherpot”) virtually did not exist. Almost all cannabis came from Morocco, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand or Jamaica. Smoking pot was illegal and many user found themselves jailed.

The ban on cannabis was more and more considered old fashioned and impossible to enforce. In 1976 the Opium Law (the law on “substances”) was changed. The lawmakers didn’t dare to legalize cannabis entirely, but changed the law in a way that the users were not regarded as criminals anymore. Youth centers were allowed to sell cannabis. The new policy was put in place to end shadowy practice in squat houses and low end bars, where heroin, LSD and speed was sold too. The administration was pretty clear on this: hard drugs is dangerous, soft drug’s dangers are minimal. This was a way to avoid people using cannabis to get in contact with hard drugs. It was called tolerance politics and for many years it was highly successful.

Between 1976 and 1985 most cannabis was sold in youth centers. Next to that, a new phenomenon emerged: the coffee-shop. Entrepreneurs, usually the ones that liked some themselves too, started to explore the possibilities to sell pot through little shops. The lid was off. After a couple of shut-down operations, police simply stopped intervening. Ultimately, many municipalities devised a licensing system for what was now called “the coffee-shop”.

Note: a few people asked through comments or email “but how do the shops get their trade?”. This is exactly what the “back-door problem” is. The answer is that getting supplies is formally illegal, but there is no enforcement. While it is obviously a deficit in the law, which is hard to crack (more on that later), the idea is that controlled distribution to the end users is preferred over shadowy practice.