A Dutch judge on Friday upheld the government's plan to introduce a "weed pass" to prevent foreigners from buying marijuana in coffee shops in the Netherlands. Amsterdam, whose scores of coffee shops are a major tourism drawcard, opposes the plan, and mayor Eberhard van der Laan says he wants to hammer out a compromise. A lawyer for coffee shop owners said he would file an urgent appeal against the ruling by a judge at The Hague District court that clears the way for the introduction of the pass in southern provinces on May 1.
There are mounting protests in the south of the Netherlands against the introduction of the 'weed pass'. As of 1 May, coffeeshops in southern Dutch cities are only allowed to sell marijuana and hashish to Dutch residents with a special card. Foreign tourists are prohibited from purchasing weed. Coffeeshop owners in Maastricht and other southern Dutch cities are up in arms about the new regulation. In Maastricht, 12 of the 13 coffeeshops closed their doors in protest.
A week after a contentious rollout of a new Dutch law to stub out cannabis sales to foreigners, enforcement is in disarray as some police are untrained and several coffee shops have closed in protest. Drug tourists are simply dodging the "cannabis card" law by heading elsewhere in the country for their fix, since the rule has entered into force in just three southern Dutch provinces so far. "It takes time for everything to be put into place," Justice and Safety Ministry spokeswoman Charlotte Menten admitted.
The introduction of the 'weed pass' in the south of the Netherlands is leading to growing problems. Since 1 May, only Dutch residents are able to purchase soft drugs in coffeeshops. Foreigners are barred. In protest against the move, many coffeeshops in Maastricht and other southern Dutch cities have closed their doors. Foreign drug tourists and Dutch residents who don’t have a pass are heading further north. In cities in the weed pass area, like the eastern border town of Venlo, growing numbers of illegal drugs dealers are hanging out near coffeeshops. They’re harrassing not only drugs tourists but also local residents.
A former government adviser on drugs has told MPs that alcohol consumption would fall by as much as 25% if Dutch-style cannabis "coffee shops" were introduced in Britain. Prof David Nutt also told the Commons home affairs committee that he stood by his claim that horse-riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy, despite the fact that the comparison triggered his sacking as chairman of the advisory committee on the misuse of drugs (ACMD).
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.
With slogans like "Don't let your vote go up in smoke!", owners of the free-wheeling cafes where bags of hashish are sold alongside cups of coffee are mounting a get-out-the-stoner-vote campaign ahead of next week's Dutch election. The campaigners are calling on their sometimes apathetic dope smoking clientele to get out and support political parties that oppose the recently introduced "weed pass" that is intended to rein in the cafes known as coffee shops and close them altogether to foreign tourists.
Limit the sale of cannabis to local users, reconsider the distinction between hard and soft drugs, raise the legal age for drinking alcohol from 16 to 18 and appoint a drug czar to overlook policies. These are the most striking recommendations published on Thursday by a committee chaired by Christian democrat Wim van de Donk. The Dutch government had asked the committee to lay the groundwork for a new memorandum on Dutch drug policies to be drafted this fall.
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.
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 new cabinet plans to press ahead with restricting access to the country's cannabis cafes to local residents but is dropping the introduction of compulsory registration of users via a membership card system. 'The wietpas will go but entrance to coffee shops will be restricted to residents with ID or a residency permit and a local council statement of residency,’ the coalition agreement states. (See also: Cannabis pass abolished? Not really)
Tourists can continue to use Amsterdam’s 220 cannabis cafes, even if they are not resident in the Netherlands, the Volkskrant quotes the capital’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan as saying. The new cabinet is pressing ahead with banning non-residents from the country's cannabis cafes, but says enforcing the ban will be carried out together with local councils, taking local policy into account. This means the city can take its own line.
Amsterdam's mayor said he would formally ban students from smoking cannabis at school, making the city in the Netherlands the first to do so. Eberhard van der Laan's introduction of a law is the result of the country's drug policy. Under the "tolerance" principle, cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but police cannot prosecute for possession of small amounts of the drug.
At least 10 of the Netherlands’ local councils have already or will soon submit plans to the justice ministry asking to be allowed to approve commercial marijuana growing. Newspaper Trouw showed councils are highly critical of official government policy on marijuana and say legalised production would remove organised crime from the equation. ‘Marijuana does not fall from the sky,’ said Heerlen mayor Paul Depla. (See also: Plan to ban strong marijuana unworkable, experts say)
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)
'Save the country, legalise drugs.' Under this striking banner, two former Dutch government ministers (for foreign affairs and health) are launching their revolutionary plan. They estimate that more than half of all the costs of crime are related to drugs. They argue that by regulating their production and sale and imposing strict government supervision, drug crime will disappear. And they say that would lead to unprecedented savings for the police and judiciary.
In total 26 of the Netherlands’ 38 largest local municipalities support government licensed or organised marijuana production, NOS television says. The 12 other council area are either opposed or have not yet made up their minds. Councils are trying to remove the grey area in the law which says possession of small amounts of cannabis will not be prosecuted but the supply and cultivation is banned. (See also: The Transparent Chain)
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)