Dutch may label some cannabis as a hard drug

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands, famous for its liberal soft drugs policies, said on Friday it may label some highly concentrated forms of cannabis as a hard drug on a par with cocaine or heroin, because of the risk of addiction.

With many coffee shops openly selling cannabis to customers and a tolerance of home-cultivation of marijuana plants, the Netherlands attracts attention in the global debate about soft drugs policies.

In the past three years, it has restricted and discouraged the use and sale of soft drugs on health and crime grounds, and wants to limit drug tourism, particularly in border towns.

The government has proposed special "weed passes" to stop visitors using coffee shops and restrict access to residents, which some analysts predict could lead to a fall in tourist numbers and spending.

Now, a Dutch commission has found that hashish and marijuana on sale in the Netherlands contain around 18 percent of THC, the main psychoactive substance, and advised the health minister that anything above 15 percent put drugs on a par with heroin or cocaine.

"I've been very worried for years about the THC concentration, especially if it is so high. We will take a serious look at it," Health Minister Edith Schippers told public broadcaster NOS.

"The addictive consequences are much stronger and severe. Clearly this is a worrying development."

When asked if tolerant soft drugs policies would end if some cannabis was labeled as a hard drug, she said: "The THC concentration fluctuates widely so the 15 percent level is not common. You'd have to look at how to change this development."

Law Professor Dirk Korf of the University of Amsterdam said he did not expect this change to have a clear impact on other countries' policies.

"In Europe you can see both liberalization and a more restrictive policy. It will depend on the country and which phase it is in," Korf said.

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