Alle 25 Nederlandse burgemeesters die verzoeken hadden ingediend om te experimenteren met gereguleerde of gedoogde aanvoer van cannabis naar de coffeeshops, kregen als Kerst cadeau van minister Opstelten van Veiligheid en Justitie (VenJ) te horen: “nee, nee en nog eens nee”. En in zijn brief aan de Tweede Kamer klinkt tussen de regels door “en hou nou toch eens op met zeuren want dat gaat echt niet gebeuren”.
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.
Dutch Minister of Justice Ivo Opstelten has announced an official ban on non-residents from coffee shops not just in Maastricht, but in the nearby cities of Tilburg and Eindhoven as well, beginning January 1, 2012. Dutch residents will need carry a “weed pass” to enter. Dutch authorities say the rest of the country will follow a year later. It’s possible that a broader ban will never come to pass, because Amsterdam is too politically powerful for any elected official to take a stance against it.
While there are many attractions that draw visitors to Amsterdam nearly a quarter of this city’s more than four million foreign tourists a year will visit its coffee shops, where the sale of small quantities of cannabis is tolerated. But Amsterdam’s days as a destination for hazy holidays may be numbered. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing coalition government is pushing to sharply restrict the operations of the coffee shops and to prohibit the sale of the drugs to nonresidents. If the measures survive a court challenge and the opposition of local officials, the first phase would begin May 1.
A new study, What Can We Learn from the Dutch Cannabis Coffeeshop System?, published in the journal Addiction earlier this month challenged the United States' "provincial" drug policy, especially as it relates to youth. The study compared cannabis use among US teens to newly available data on usage rates in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. The results: The Dutch have about 700 adults-only clubs that sell 50 to 150 metric tons of cannabis per year, yet Dutch teens report lower levels of weed usage than youth in the United States.
For visitors to the Netherlands who enjoy the relaxing effects of marijuana, life has just become a little less easy going, particularly for those Germans living just west of the border who used to just pop over for a fresh supply. New legislation is restricting the sale of cannabis to residents of the country and banning tourists from purchasing the drug at the coffee shops, famous for selling it.
Accessibility has made most Dutch indifferent to smoking weed, and ironically, the Netherlands has one of Europe's lowest rates of cannabis usage. A coalition government, with minority parties wielding disproportional power have targeted coffee shops for reform. While they won't eradicate the tolerance policy, they have proposed a restrictive reform called the Weed Pass, which aims to make coffee shops work on a membership system.
The traditional Dutch tolerance of the sale of small amounts of marijuana through licensed "coffee shops" is under severe strain. On 14 October a new coalition government was sworn in. Part of the coalition agreement stipulates that coffee shops "will become private clubs". In other words, no tourists.
Coffee shops in the Dutch city of Maastricht have banned foreign tourists, except those from Germany and Belgium, from entering their premises. "A number of people will leave disappointed, and we are not very proud of refusing entry to visitors who have come to our shops for the last 28 years and never caused a problem," said Marc Josemans, president of the Society of United Coffeeshops and owner of the Easy Going coffee shop. "The question now will be if they instead buy from the illegal drug runners here or if they buy illegally in their own countries."
Foreign visitors will no longer be welcome to purchase cannabis in the coffee shops of Dutch border city Maastricht, unless they can prove that they are from the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany. All other clients have to return to the illegal circuit in their own country, which will create problems in those countries, according Marc Josemans, chairman of the association of Maastricht coffee shops. "It's also partly the governments' fault in these countries. Never did the Belgian, French, German or Italian, for example, governments take their responsibilities by creating a system like we did in Holland - a safe system where people can buy their cannabis products without being approached for hard drugs and without being contacted by criminals."
A Dutch city has lost income worth £26 million a year to its economy after banning French drug tourists from buying marijuana in legal cannabis cafés. The reduction in turnover in the popular "coffee shops", where cannabis can legally be purchased and smoked, is equivalent to the loss of 345 full-time jobs. As from October 1 this year the city's cannabis cafés have only been allowed to serve Dutch, Belgian and German customers in a bid to drive away millions of French drug tourists. The Association of Licensed Maastricht Coffee Shops has warned that cannabis users are being driven onto the streets, where marijuana smoking is a criminal offence, after getting Dutch people to buy drugs for them.
The conservative Dutch government said it is delaying plans to ban tourists from buying marijuana until at least May 2012, though it still intends to curtail the country’s famed tolerance policy. The Cabinet wants to introduce a “weed pass” system that will allow only legal residents of the Netherlands to buy marijuana. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said a test rollout in southern cities planned for January will now be delayed until May because of practical difficulties.
The ban on recreational drugs promotes crime and is bad for public health. Austerity measures to cut public spending are a hot topic for debate everywhere in Europe. In the Netherlands, where a new parliament will be elected next month, several proposals to reduce spending by 30 billion euros are on the table. All of these proposals hit where it hurts, but one option could actually be a welcome relief: drug regulation. (See also: Former ministers: legalise all drugs!)
In a manifesto, mayors of cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht argue that the current laws allowing the sale but banning the cultivation of marijuana mean the nation’s cannabis cafés have to turn to illegal gangs for their supply, encouraging organised crime and wasting valuable police time dismantling unlawful plantations.
The mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, understandably opposes the ban: Roughly a third of the four million foreign tourists who visit the city each year smoke marijuana in the local coffee shops. Ten percent of tourists who visit Holland do so exclusively for the pot. The cafes do $2.6 billion in business a year, generating $503 million in tax revenue.
A Dutch court refused to punish two cannabis growers, criticising a government policy that criminalises production while allowing its sale in coffee shops. In its judgment, the court found the suspects guilty but "no punishment will be applied". "Given that the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is tolerated, this means that these coffee shops must supply themselves and so cultivation must be done to satisfy these demands," the court said. "The law does not state how this supply should be done." The ruling is groundbreaking; it might open up the back door of the coffeeshops. (See also: No jail or fines for 'idealistic' marijuana growing couple)
Contrariamente alle aspettative, le elezioni olandesi di settembre non sono state decisive per il futuro dei coffeeshop. I partiti a favore delle restrizioni ai coffeeshop (o addirittura per la loro abolizione) hanno ottenuto 77 seggi su 150, mentre i contrari al cannabis pass e/o a favore della fornitura legale di cannabis ai coffeeshop ne hanno ottenuti 73. E per governare c’è bisogno di una coalizione.
The municipality of the Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced two scientific experiments on cannabis policy. One experiment will be to set up a closed club model for adult recreational cannabis users. Cannabis smokers will grow their own marijuana in a cooperative, a move which would go against the government's drive to discourage coffee shops. The other experiment concerns treatment for people who are vulnerable to psychotic disorders.
In 1976 the Netherlands adopted a formal written policy of non-enforcement for violations involving possession or sale of up to 30 g of cannabis. The ‘gateway theory’ has long been seen as an argument for being tough on cannabis, but interestingly, the Dutch saw that concept as a rationale for allowing retail outlets to sell small quantities. Rather than seeing an inexorable psychopharmacological link between marijuana and hard drugs, the Dutch hypothesized that the gateway mechanism reflected social and economic networks, so that separating the markets would keep cannabis users out of contact with hard-drug users and sellers.
Copenhagen just got a lot closer to legalizing the sale of pot. If approved by the Danish parliament, next year the city could grant licenses to individual marijuana growers. City-owned shops would then sell their crop to the public. “We are thinking of perhaps 30 to 40 public sales houses, where the people aren’t interested in selling you more, they’re interested in you,” Mikkel Warming, the mayor in charge of social affairs in Copenhagen. “We don’t want an Amsterdam model," Warming said. "We want a way to make it legal to import or grow marijuana."