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Dutch MPs pass bill to back regulated cannabis growing

This picture taken on February 21, 2017, shows cannabis plants in the basement of The Cannabis Company in Amsterdam. — AFP pic This picture taken on February 21, 2017, shows cannabis plants in the basement of The Cannabis Company in Amsterdam. — AFP pic THE HAGUE, Feb 22 — The Netherlands took a step closer to regulating the wholesale cultivation of cannabis after lawmakers yesterday narrowly passed a bill to back legal growing and sale of the soft drug under government control.

The Dutch decriminalised the sale of small amounts of cannabis — less than 5 grammes — in 1976 and allowed each person to legally grow five plants for personal use.

But the wholesale growing and sale of marijuana remains banned, forcing some 600 authorised owners of so-called “coffee shops” to buy from criminals to meet demand.

The bill, suggested by progressive D66 party member Vera Bergkamp, has been “approved”, the Dutch lower house said on its website.

It was accepted by a narrow majority of 77 MPs versus 72 against in the 150-seat lower house, Dutch newscaster NOS said.

It now has to be approved by parliament’s upper house, but may not pass as parties who voted against the proposal in the lower house hold a majority in the Senate.

The Netherlands also heads to the polls on March 15, so it is unlikely that the draft bill will be handled in the Senate before then, Dutch media reports said.

Bergkamp argued the cultivation and sale of cannabis will be better controlled if it is regulated by the government.

This means that coffee shop owners will be able to buy cannabis from certified growers within a “closed system” controlled by the government.

“It will be better for citizens’ health if we know where the weed comes from and we’ll be able to demand quality standards,” Bergkamp told parliament earlier this month.

It will also help fight criminality, stop coffee shop owners from having to deal with criminal gangs, clarify legislation around the issue and simplify measures to discourage smoking dope, she said.

Opponents of the legislation, however, said regulated cannabis cultivation broke international rules and would lead to more addiction among the youth.

Organised crime, which mainly cultivates marijuana for export, would just continue to grow it for the international market, opponents told the NOS.

Dutch coffee shops generate millions of euros annually, and in major hubs such as Amsterdam have proven a draw for some of the millions of tourists that visit the country every year. — AFP

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