The Netherlands Embassy and Consulates, United States

How does D.C. compare with Amsterdam?

Initiative 71 became law today, legalizing marijuana in Washington, D.C. under certain circumstances. Mayor Muriel Bowser said this week that the District will not become “like Amsterdam,” as though being “like Amsterdam” would be a bad thing. City Hall even refers to Amsterdam in their official Q&A. To give the people of Washington, D.C. an educated view of how D.C. compares to Amsterdam, the Netherlands Embassy in Washington offers this Q&A about Dutch marijuana laws and policies and an infographic.

See how Washington, D.C. and Amsterdam compare to one another in  this infographic.

1. What are the differences between Washington, D.C., and Dutch law on the possession of marijuana?

In Washington, D.C., under initiative 71 it is legal for any person over 21 to:

  • Possess marijuana weighing 2 oz. or less;
  • Grow no more than 6 cannabis plants (<3 being mature) per person or no more than 12 plants (<6 mature) per house or rental unit.

In the Netherlands, it is illegal to possess (and grow, prepare, process, sell, deliver, distribute and transport) marijuana. However, the Dutch police and public prosecutors have designated the following cases (for persons 18 years or older) as a low-enforcement priority:

  • Possession up to 5 grams (0.176 oz.) of marijuana;
  • Growing of a maximum of 5 cannabis plants for personal consumption in a single household.

2. Are there any differences between how each handles the selling of marijuana?

Because of Congressional interference, D.C. can’t enact any regulatory framework for the sale or taxation of marijuana. So the sale of marijuana is illegal. However, it is permitted to give (without remuneration) less than 1 oz. to another person over 21.

In the Netherlands, the prohibition on the sale of marijuana will not be enforced by the police only if it is sold in a licensed coffee shop to persons 18 or older and the following criteria are met:

  • No more than 5 grams of marijuana can be bought per person per day;
  • The total supply of a coffee shop can be no more than 500 grams (17.6 oz.) at any given time;
  • No alcohol can be served in coffee shops;
  • Minors are not allowed inside coffee shops;
  • It is forbidden to advertise marijuana or other drugs;
  • No nuisance is tolerated in/around coffee shops. 

The sale of marijuana in any other circumstance will be prosecuted.

3. Can anyone traveling to the Netherlands consume marijuana in a coffee shop? 

No, since 2013 the sale of marijuana in coffee shops is only permitted to residents of the Netherlands aged 18 years or older. The primary reason behind this new law was the nuisance of drug tourism in the provinces bordering Germany and Belgium. However, local governments have the authority to designate a level of priority to the enforcement of this law. As a consequence, in the provinces bordering Germany and Belgium there is a higher enforcement priority than in a few cities, like Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

4. But in Amsterdam, it’s legal to possess, grow and sell marijuana, isn’t it?

No, as explained in Question 1, Dutch law applies everywhere in the Netherlands, and Amsterdam is no exception.

5. So the Dutch consume larger quantities of marijuana than Americans, right?

Not quite, the lifetime rate of marijuana consumption for ages 15-64 in the Netherlands is 25.7% compared to 41.5% in the US.

Learn more about the Dutch government's laws and policies regarding drug use