It’s important to know what’s legal and what isn’t when using weed and drugs in the Netherlands, and more specifically in Maastricht. Many students are not fully aware of the drug laws, so we’re here to break it all down for you.
Soft vs hard drugs
Dutch law distinguishes between hard and soft drugs. Soft drugs (while not harmless) are less dangerous to health than hard drugs.
Soft drugs include, for example, hash, marijuana, truffles (not the same as shrooms – more below), sleeping pills and sedatives (e.g. Valium and Seresta).
Conversely, the risks associated with hard drugs are greater than in the case of soft drugs, especially in terms of health hazards, addiction, and the impact on public order. Hard drugs include, for example, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, LSD and ecstasy / MDMA. Mushrooms were also banned in the Netherlands in 2008.
While the sale and consumption of soft drugs is tolerated under specific circumstances, the sale and consumption of hard drugs is not.
Why does the Dutch government make this distinction between soft and hard drugs? The idea is that separating the two types shields soft drug users from the criminal circuit that is involved in the hard drugs trade.
Toleration policy (Gedoogbeleid)
The Netherlands is famous for its progressive drug policy. While it may be no surprise to you that hard drugs are illegal here, many people don’t know that soft drugs are actually also illegal in the Netherlands. This means that those found selling, producing, dealing or in possession of more than five grams of soft drugs always face the risk of prosecution.
However, the hype and fame surrounding drug (specifically cannabis) use in the Netherlands doesn’t come from nowhere: the Netherlands has a policy of toleration for the sale of soft drugs in coffeeshops. This is weird, because it means that selling weed and soft drugs in coffeeshops is technically illegal, but the police chooses not to prosecute coffeeshops for this offence (i.e. it is tolerated).
The police also chooses not to prosecute people for possession of small quantities of soft drugs. Small quantities meaning:
- up to 5 grams of cannabis (marijuana or hash), and
- up to 5 cannabis plants
This means that if you have anything up to five grams of weed / five cannabis plants on you (but nothing more!), the police will only seize the drugs and the plants and, as a rule, you will not be prosecuted or fined when you stay under these quantities.
On the other hand, if you have more than 5 grams of weed or more than 5 cannabis plants in your possession, you may be prosecuted and / or fined if you’re caught by the police.
Bear in mind that the policy of toleration does not apply to people under the age of 18. It is always against the law for minors to purchase or possess soft drugs, and it’s also illegal for adults to hand out (soft) drugs to minors. These rules also apply to alcohol – meaning it’s illegal for under-18s to drink, and for adults to give minors alcohol.
Hard drugs are always illegal to sell, produce or deal in any quantity. If you are in possession of hard drugs, deal in, sell them or produce them, you may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment and / or the payment of a fine.
Coffeeshops and head shops
The sale of soft drugs in coffeeshops is tolerated in the Netherlands under certain strict conditions. For example, coffeeshops are allowed to sell weed, but not alcohol!
If you must buy weed, do so at a coffeeshop – buying from street dealers is illegal, and there’s also the risk of getting stuff that is laced with something else.
The government allows the sale of soft drugs in coffeeshops to prevent people who use soft drugs from coming into contact with hard drugs and the illegal trade that surrounds them. Thanks to the toleration policy, cannabis users don’t have to buy their weed from criminal dealers who might easily bring them into contact with hard drugs.
But this doesn’t mean that anything goes in a coffeeshop. They also have to follow some strict regulations. A relatively new regulation is that only residents of the Netherlands are allowed to enter a coffeeshop and buy weed. A resident is someone who has their (residential) address in a Dutch municipality and is therefore registered there. This means that coffeeshops will ask you for a valid proof of identity or a residence permit if you want to enter and buy. For (international) students in Maastricht, a valid ID, your student card and valid proof of enrollment at your university are usually enough to enter a coffeeshop. Non-residents and minors are never allowed.
Another legal shop where you can buy soft drugs is a head shop. Head shops usually specialise in things like bongs, pipes, vapes, etc., but you can also get magic truffles (Psilocybin) in them. Truffles come from the same fungi as magic mushrooms do, but are somewhat easier to use and more predictable than mushrooms – more info on that here. Truffles are legal in the Netherlands, while shrooms were outlawed in 2008.
If you do want to buy truffles, and it’s your first time using them, always talk to the head shop owner first. Ask them any questions you have, tell them whether or not you’ve had any previous experience with psychedelics, and they will help you with choosing the truffle type / strength, the dosage, and how to approach the whole experience in general. Don’t be shy, this is their job! They are legally required to inform you properly before you buy.
Safe use of hard drugs
Coffeeshops will never sell you any hard drugs. Still, hard drug use is not uncommon in the Netherlands and in Maastricht, just like in the rest of the world. At mymaastricht.nl, we are aware that drug use in a university city is to be expected. Ideally, you should never use hard drugs, not only because of the risks of prosecution and imprisonment, but also because of things like addiction and dangers to your health and safety. Still, if you do opt for using, we urge you to do so in the safest way possible, and if you’re new to drugs, read up on dosage, potential side-effects and advice for safe consumption. The following links are good starting points for learning about using hard drugs in a safe manner (they are all in Dutch, but you should be fine with an online translator):
- For information on testing your substances.
- For general information on safe use of hard drugs.
- This website provides personal guidance, and is a great source for tips and information.
- On this government-sponsored YouTube channel, you can actually watch people get high (on drugs like ecstasy, speed, cocaine and LSD) as they explain all the physical and mental effects of these substances (subtitles are available in English).
- You can find information on pills that were found to be extra risky, for example because particular harmful substances (such as PMMA) were detected in them.
If you’ve recently used party drugs and have persistent complaints (such as depression, visual static or depersonalisation) you can get an explanation, diagnosis and advice from the national medical consultation hour for party drugs (link in Dutch). These consultations take place over the phone, are completely free and don’t require a GP referral. Lastly, if you need help dealing with addiction or substance abuse, you can read more about this on our dedicated page.
Cannabis use in public places
Lastly, an important thing to know is whether or not you can use weed in public places. Maastricht is currently not on the list of municipalities that prohibits this, so you won’t get in trouble if you do so.