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Dutch cannabis pilot startup phase to launch in December

A startup phase for a pilot program to allow limited cultivation and distribution of adult-use cannabis in the Netherlands is set to launch in December with only two cultivators, the Dutch government disclosed in a letter to Parliament.

The program, which is supposed to involve 10 cannabis cultivators supplying dozens of stores, had originally been intended to launch in 2020.

“The cabinet has decided that the (startup) phase of the closed coffee shop chain experiment will start on December 15, 2023,” according to the government letter.

“The most recent planning shows that two legal growers are expected to be ready for delivery to coffee shops in the fourth quarter of 2023.

“This is sufficient to start the (initial) phase of the experiment in Breda and Tilburg.”

Breda is a municipality in the southern part of the Netherlands with a population of 180,000; neighboring Tilburg has roughly 217,000 residents.

In this early phase, participating coffee shops from the two cities will be allowed to offer both legally grown cannabis and unregulated products.

The next growers are expected to start supplying coffee shops in Breda and Tilburg in February 2024, the government said.

The stores, known as coffee shops, operate in a system where sales are legally tolerated but cannabis cultivation has been prohibited.

The Dutch government expects the startup phase to last a maximum of six months.

That will be followed by a transitional phase.

“It is expected that all participating municipalities will be able to start the transition phase at the earliest at the end of the first quarter of 2024,” according to the government’s letter.

In this transition phase, coffee shops in participating municipalities will still be allowed to offer unregulated products in addition to regulated ones.

However, according to the letter, “the actual experimental phase” will begin six weeks after the start of the transition phase, and from that time on, participating coffee shops will be allowed to sell only regulated cannabis.

But the beleaguered plan has been slow to launch for a variety of reasons.

The Netherlands has been trying to get the pilot off the ground for almost four years.

Banking has been one of the biggest hurdles, with a number of growers indicating they had problems obtaining bank accounts, the Dutch government acknowledged earlier this year.

“The banks involved and the growers themselves are looking for solutions. We will provide an update in the summer,” they said at the time.

The government didn’t specifically address the banking issue in its latest letter.

The Dutch experiment to regulate cannabis production initially attracted significant domestic and international capital.

Earlier this year, Canadian cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis said it was pulling the plug on its agreement with Dutch producer Growery, a deal the company had announced in 2021.

Canadian produce company Village Farms International still owns 85% of Dutch cannabis operator Leli Holland.

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