Dutch cannabis sales are moving into the 21st century despite the industry’s legal status being stuck in a bygone era. Before long, buds of dubious provenance may become relics of the past.
Two Dutch coffeeshops have begun providing customers with extensive information about the cannabis they sell, including lab-verified cannabinoid content, strain information, batch numbers, and QR codes for every variety of flower and hash on sale. While this is standard procedure in some legal U.S. states, in the Netherlands it’s a minor revolution.
At the Dizzy Duck, one of the oldest coffeeshops in The Hague, customers are informed in both Dutch and English about the new service. “Since we first started, Dizzy Duck has been obsessed with quality,” a blue sign on the counter reads. “Now we have taken it a step further and teamed up with Cannabytics to give you, the customer, all the information you need to make responsible choices. Just download a good QR reader from your App store, scan the QR on the label and find out more about your product”.
Tara van der Poel, Dizzy Duck proprietor
Tara van der Poel, proprietor of the Dizzy Duck, is proud to be one of the first coffeeshops in the Netherlands to have every batch tested. “There’s a lot of bad weed around” Van der Poel told Leafly. “All kinds of stuff is added to increase weight. That’s why I’m so happy that everything is tested now.”
The High Society coffeeshop, in Leiden, is the second venue to make use of lab tests to verify chemical composition and potency.
The test reports, displayed in a folder on Dizzy Duck’s counter, indicate the percentage of four cannabinoids, 11 terpenes, and nine types of contaminants, ranging from pesticides to metals like copper and zinc. Scanning a QR code brings consumers to a website with more information, including a list of effects and close up photos of the cannabis.
“Cannabytics applies the standards of the food industry,” Van der Poel said, “You’re probably not going to eat the weed, but you could.”
Van der Poel pays a fixed monthly fee for an unlimited amount of tests and gets the results within 48 hours. Accuracy, price, and speed were her top concerns, she said. Less than a gram per batch is needed for a full test.
What happens when a batch turns out to be contaminated? “It simply hasn’t happened yet,” she said, “but of course we’ve only just started. Look, as a coffeeshop you pretty much have to buy everything. A grower isn’t going to wait 48 hours for me to say yes or no. But if I know the weed is not clean, I will not sell it. And I can go talk to the grower who produced it.”
Greg Dennett, a 45-year-old Brit, is the founder of Cannabytics. He spent part of his childhood in the Netherlands and studied tropical plant diseases in the U.K. When his mother became seriously ill about two years ago, the only thing that seemed to help her was cannabis oil with THC. Dennett began a search — first to buy oil online, then to get it tested.
It was a slow and costly process. Eventually a Spanish lab tested the oil, but it took two months before Dennett got the results. He couldn’t understand why the test was so expensive and took so long. “I’ve studied botany, I knew a bit about gas chromatography,” he said. “My father had his own lab.”
Around that time, he got a call from a friend who was working with Sage Analytics, an American company that has developed a fast cannabis potency test. Dennett briefly worked for them but decided he was looking for a different testing method — and decided to give it a go himself. Two years and a lot of his own money later, he’s now owner of the Cannabytics lab, in South Holland province, which uses high-performance liquid chromatography and near-infrared spectroscopy.
Further north, in the Amsterdam area, lab testing is still virtually unknown. But at least one commercial cannabis lab, Testlab Amsterdam, has already been established.
One thing Dennett didn’t expect was how hard it was to interest coffeeshops in cannabis testing. He visited dozens, but initially few showed enthusiasm. “To be honest, if it wasn’t for those two having faith and saying, ‘We’ve got the balls to do this first.’ [But] in these last two weeks I’ve had so many inquiries. I knew this would happen: Once one or two do it, the rest will follow. But getting that first one was a nightmare.”
Dennett’s long-term goal, he said, is to set a quality standard for coffeeshops “so that consumers, especially the growing group of medical users, know where to get reliable strains and approximately what effects these strains will give.”