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Written by Sheena Beronio

Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Sunday, March 15, an emergency enclosure. The emergency enclosure means a total close down of schools, daycare outlets, cafés, restaurants, sports facilities, fitness clubs, saunas, sex clubs, and cannabis coffee shops at least until April 28, 2020. This is in response to the growing number of COVID-19 positive cases in the Netherlands, with a current number of 1,135 people COVID-19 positive, with 20 people dead. 

Before the announcement, in a little cannabis shop in Holland, Ben Van Essen, a manager from the Metamorphose cannabis coffee shop in Groningen, Holland, crouched on all fours as he began marking the store’s floors. The straight white tapes Ben worked on all night, will be used to enforce social distancing. 

“With the coronavirus, we have to make sure our customers respect the distance,” said Van Essen in an interview for Cannabis Wire. Ben also installed a wide plexiglass window in front of his counter, and a spray bottle of hand sanitizer at the shop’s entrance.

“I let a maximum of four people in, and they have to leave as soon as they have bought their products. They can’t use the bathroom either. They buy their joint, hash, and they leave,” as per Ben. Ben admits that the enforcement of social distancing in the shop takes a toll on the business, but he’s still grateful that he can keep his job. 

Cannabis street dealers swarm the streets during the pandemic

Outside, cannabis street dealers still operate. They would hand out calling cards to people waiting in lines at cannabis coffee shops. This scene is prevalent not only in Holland but in cities like Haarlem, Heerhugowaard, Nijmegen, and Breda.

The vibrant cannabis street dealer operation, during this time, caused some panic on cannabis business owners and groups. Margriet Van der Wal, chair of the union Actieve Bredase Coffeeshops (ABC) in Breda, saw the risk that cannabis street dwellers pose on the cannabis market.

“The only legal and safe way to get your cannabis in Holland is in coffee shops. They play a big role in harm reduction and public safety,” said Van der Wal in an interview with Cannabis Wire. 

After the minister’s announcement, Van der Wal sent a letter to Paul Depla, her city’s mayor. The letter, in an attempt to keep her business alive, asks for an authorization to let her shop operate in a take-out type of transaction. Other coffee shops’ unions are also reaching out to their mayors in a similar fashion. “We are well-connected with our mayors. We communicate a lot, and directly,” as per Van der Wal.

On March 16, the disaster and crisis management tool or representatives of the twenty-five safety-regions of Holland sat down in a meeting with Justice and Security Minister, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, to discuss more containment measures and the risks of the swarm of cannabis street dealers. 

Less than three hours after the said meeting, the government announced on its website the amendment of regulation regarding its decision to close down cannabis coffee shops. In the amendment, cannabis coffee shops can remain open, given that they operate on a take-out basis.

In an interview with Cannabis Wire, Vera Bergkamp, a house representative said that “in the current situation, it is the right decision” to keep the cannabis coffee shops open, as it would curb the illegal trade and cannabis on the streets. It’ll lessen unmonitored human engagements too. It makes sense. The government just took the correct road of choosing to open cannabis cafes, which they can monitor, instead of risking underground cannabis transactions.