Na een lange periode van pragmatisme en gedurfde vernieuwingen van het drugsbeleid, waarmee Nederland ook internationaal een pioniersrol innam, is er – zoals de Commissie Van de Donk constateerde – al jarenlang sprake van beleidsverwaarlozing. Die feitelijke stilstand dreigt met de huidige kabinetsplannen om te slaan naar achteruitgang. Er zijn een aantal goede redenen om daarover ernstig bezorgd te zijn, niet alleen ten behoeve van de verworvenheden hier in Nederland, maar ook bezien vanuit recente internationale ontwikkelingen.
Building on a long history and culture of tolerance, the Dutch responded to illicit drugs with decades of pragmatic measures free of judgment. A central element of modern Dutch drug policy was a crucial decision to establish a legal and practical separation of cannabis—judged to pose "acceptable" risks to consumers and society—from hard drugs associated with unacceptable risk. This policy effectively decriminalized possession and use of cannabis and opened the door for tolerated outlets for small-scale cannabis sales that eventually took the form of the well-known Dutch "coffee shops."
The Netherlands, the world pioneer in pot liberalization, has recently taken a harder line toward marijuana, with mixed results seen particularly in border towns such as Maastricht. Maastricht's street dealers are back, local residents complain. And the reason is a crackdown on coffee-shops triggered by another problem: Pot tourists who crossed the border to visit the cafes and made a nuisance of themselves.
The D66 Liberal party, currently the second biggest party in The Netherlands in recent polls, is drawing up draft legislation for the regulated production of marijuana. At the moment it is illegal to grow marijuana. This means there is a grey area between the official policy of turning a blind eye towards possessing small amounts of marijuana and the supply to coffee shops. (See also: Majority of the Dutch favour cannabis legalisation)
Tourists are still able to buy marijuana in 85% of the Netherlands' cannabis cafes despite the national ban on selling soft drugs to non-residents, according to Tilburg University researcher Nicole Maalsté. Most local authorities have incorporated the ban into their local bylaws but do nothing to enforce it. However, non-residents are excluded from coffee shops in 23 of the 103 local council areas with licenced cannabis cafes. These are mainly in the southern regions.
The Dutch government's cannabis policy has created a monster whose tentacles are spreading throughout the country, according to Paul Depla the mayor of Heerlen. Depla, one of 35 mayors who want production of marijuana to be legalised, said that government policy is making it far too easy for people to become criminals. 'Under the current policy, all you need is an attic and you can start growing marijuana,' Depla said. 'This has created a monster with tentacles that reach everywhere.'
The owner and several employees of the biggest coffee shop in the Netherlands are being prosecuted for membership of a criminal organisation. The outcome of the trial can have a huge impact on soft drugs policy in the Netherlands. If Meddy Willemsen, the owner of the mega coffee shop Checkpoint in Terneuzen, is convicted of encouraging illegal cannabis cultivation and running an organised supply chain, more proprietors of coffee shops could face prosecution as gang leaders. (See also: Owner of massive cannabis café cleared of most charges on appeal)
A Dutch city has banned foreigners from its cannabis selling coffee shops. A European court will now decide whether this is legal. The continuing struggle of Dutch border towns against drug tourism could soon take a new turn, as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) prepares to hand down a ruling regarding one of the most severe measures employed in this battle so far. The ECJ heard arguments in Josemans v. Maastricht. (See also: Court backs Dutch ruling on coffee shops)
Locals in Maastricht should no longer have to formally register as marijuana users to buy soft drugs from the city’s cannabis cafes, mayor Onno Hoes said in a letter to councillors. Since May 1, cannabis cafes in the south of the country have been turned into member-only clubs in an effort to keep out foreigners. Only locals, who can prove they live in the area, are allowed to sign up for membership. Hoes says the number of foreigners trying to buy soft drugs has fallen so sharply that the membership cards are no longer necessary.
The Dutch government should licence the growing and supply of marijuana to the country’s 700 or so coffee shops that sell cannabis, according to a group of around 30 Dutch mayors. This is the conclusion of the ‘cannabis summit’ at which the mayors discussed the country’s policy on soft drugs. The mayor of Eindhoven, Rob van Gijzel, said his city is prepared to run a ‘monitored pilot scheme’ to assess if a system of licenced growers reduces drugs-related crime.
Most of the Dutch local councils that have so-called coffee shops which sell marijuana say they have no problem with the current policy of tolerating these outlets, according to a survey by NRC Handelsblad. The newspaper sent a questionnaire to the 105 local councils which, between them, have a total of 353 coffee shops. Of the two-thirds that responded, only 14 felt these establishments should be closed. But over 75 percent want the national government to regulate wholesale supply to the coffee shops.
Maastricht - formerly a mecca for drug tourists from across western Europe - has called for police reinforcements to handle "aggressive" street pushers, who have taken over almost all trade in marijuana and cannabis since authorities introduced tighter controls on legal outlets. The Dutch town's Mayor Onno Hoes wants to double the number of dedicated police officers in order to control the black market, which has benefited from the region's draconian "weed pass" law.
Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said the cannabis club membership card does not work and will never work. He said the cannabis pass just causes more nuisance. He thinks there will be more street dealing of soft drugs once it is introduced throughout the Netherlands on January 1. In the southern provinces, local Liberal politicians are asking party leader Mark Rutte to scrap the national introduction of the pass during his talks with the Labour party on the formation of a new cabinet. Aboutaleb has now joined their ranks.
The compromise would end the obligation on cannabis cafe owners to register users and would allow people to buy soft drugs all over the country. However 'foreigners' would be refused entry. Labour and the VVD are currently in talks on forming a new government and the wietpas is one of the areas where agreement still has to be reached. The VVD wants to press on with the new system but the Labour party is opposed. (See also: Soft drugs in the Netherlands)
The Dutch city of Eindhoven has come up with a proposal it believes will curb the illegal supply of cannabis to the city’s cannabis coffee shops: they suggest growing it themselves. “The Eindhoven municipality has come out in favor of a pilot project regarding the controlled cultivation of cannabis,” Eindhoven’s mayor Rob van Gijzel said in a letter, a copy of which was handed to local media. “This suggestion is aimed at using controlled cultivation to curb the ‘back-door’ problems associated with illegal supply to coffee shops.” (See also: Friesland councillors support move to legalise cannabis production)
Two-thirds of the country's 650 cannabis cafes continue to sell marijuana to tourists, despite the ban implemented at the beginning of this year. In total 111 cafes in 33 cities - including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague - took part in the survey, set up by Epicurus, a foundation launched by coffee shop owners. The survey shows there is a sharp north-south divide. (See also: Deal struck in Maastricht that could let tourists back into cannabis cafes)
Labour senators are refusing to cooperate with the Dutch government's tough line on marijuana and want to sanction regulated production trials. Senator Guusje ter Horst told television show Nieuwsuur that the entire soft drugs strategy needs to be overhauled. In particular, efforts need to be made to remove marijuana from organised crime. Justice minister Ivo Opstelten has said he will not give in to pressure to allow controlled marijuana growing, despite calls for change from dozens of mayors.
Three coffeeshops who had nearly 70 kilos of cannabis confiscated have avoided prosecution after a court ruled police had tacitly endorsed their activities. Officially coffeeshops are limited to a stockpile of 500 grams. The appeal court in The Hague found that the owners had co-operated throughout with police, the local council and the tax office, all of whom knew the coffeeshops had far more than the permitted amount in stock.
Between 78% and 91% of marijuana grown in the Netherlands is exported, according to new justice ministry research. This makes it pointless to regulate marijuana production for sale in licenced cannabis cafes within the Netherlands because illegal growing will continue, Justice minister Opstelten said in a briefing to Parliament. (See for a critical view: The 80% myth revisited)