Entrepreneurs eye marijuana for growing business

Edition 20 June 2017, by Megan Yanicke

A group of entrepreneurs are jumping on a potential new market in the Netherlands: large scale cannabis cultivation. The lower house of parliament recently decided to regulate marijuana growing with farming licenses. The majority voted in favor of a bill, drawn up by D66 MP Vera Bergkamp, and backed by Labour, GroenLinks, the Socialists and pro-animal PvdD as well as all the splinter parties. Bergkamp hopes introducing licensed marijuana production will clarify the legal ‘grey area’ between illegal cultivation and legal cannabis cafes or coffee shops.

But, the legislation does not have majority backing in the upper house of parliament and therefore might not become a reality. Despite the uncertainty, the Legal Cannabis Coalition (LCC) has already been formed by a group of entrepreneurs. They have selected a possible growing site- the former dome prison in Breda. Dutch media has confirmed a 50 year old real estate businessman from Alphen aan den Rijn is leading the effort. The businessman has not spoken publicly about the project due to personal safety concerns.

Coffee shops in the Netherlands spend 500 to 600 million euros annually on soft drugs. Right now, that money disappears into the illegal market, but new government licensing would redirect the cash flow into legal businesses. Under the current regulations, the Dutch Ministry of Justice actively pursues and prosecutes large-scale marijuana dealers and growers, as well as international distributors. In 2015, Dutch authorities closed nearly 6,000 cannabis farms.

Last year, a study by Radboud University reported legalising cannabis production would benefit public health and human rights. The study found illegal marijuana operations are linked to a long list of society woes including criminal violence, fires, environmental and noise pollution, and the spread of bacteria. Those opposed to legislation say it conflicts with international treaties and wouldn’t have any impact on the marijuana being grown illegally in the Netherlands and exported abroad.

Coffee shop entrepreneurs are also not enthusiastic about large-scale cannabis farming. The president of the Union of Cannabis Retailers, Joachim Helms, has told the Associated Press that he welcomes the transparency the legislation could bring to their industry. However, according to Dutch media, he believes the risk is that quality will be sacrificed for quantity. “We want to continue selling all kinds of weed. Therefore, you need a lot of cultivation specialists. We’re not looking forward to a mass product. If supply is limited, our customers will move to the underground economy,” he said. The traditionally divided coffee shop industry is now banding together. One day after the House approved the licensing regulations, more than 200 owners of coffee shops gathered in The Hague to create a common strategy. Participants told Dutch media that they want the coffee shops to grow the marijuana for themselves or at least be involved in decisions regarding cultivation. They are reportedly asking for “a seat at the negotiating table.” Legal Cannabis Coalition members have contacted researchers with the University of Wageningen in Bleiswijk to learn more about cannabis cultivation. The research department reports it is possible to harvest marijuana six times per year under ideal conditions. The department has also researched the use of energy efficient LED lighting for cannabis growing. Calculations made by the university for the LCC, according Dutch media, show the need for a cultivating area of 23,000 meters for the supply of 600 coffee shops (2.3 hectares). The dome prison in Breda, which was closed three years ago, is available over the next two years for entrepreneurs to use for a wide variety of activities. The site is also considered an ideal choice because the building can be secured.