|Photo: NORML Blog|
|What do you do when you have a booming, very profitable marijuana tourism industry? Shut it down, of course! If you’re the conservative Dutch government and have your head up your ezel.|
There goes the tourism industry.
In a hare-brained move, the new conservative government of the Netherlands said on Wednesday it plans to ban tourists from buying cannabis in its famed “coffee shops,” where hash and marijuana are legally sold. The shops have become a very popular attraction for travelers from other countries.
The new government, which took office last month, has agreed to limit the sale of cannabis to Dutch residents only, to curb supposed crime linked to its production and sale.
“No tourist attractions. We don’t like that,” said Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch minister for security and justice on Wednesday, reports Gilbert Kreijger of Reuters.
“The heart of the problem is crime and disturbances surrounding the sale,” Opstolten claimed. “We have to go back to what it was meant for: local use for those who would like it.”
|Graphic: Mr Lunk’s HideOut|
One can’t help but wonder why cannabis sales to foreigners — which have been allowed for about 35 years in the Netherlands — is suddenly defined as a “problem,” when it has brought so much revenue to the country.
It’s hard to analyze the strategy behind banning the coffee shops, when people from all over the world visit the Netherlands solely because of them. But the new conservative Dutch government, busily looking for scapegoats for their societal ills, believes that cutting off foreigners from cannabis sales will somehow fix things.
Shop owners say the idea is unworkable, according to The Associated Press.
The Netherlands has for years had one of Europe’s most liberal soft drug policies, with its coffee shops, especially in Amsterdam and in border cities near Belgium and Germany, have been major sources of tourist cash.
But some cities near the Belgian border have cracked down on marijuana tourism, and the Dutch security minister on Wednesday confirmed a wider clampdown after coalition parties — comprising Labour, Christian Democrats and a small Christian party — agreed to push for a ban in September.
Amsterdam, which stands to lose a major tourist attraction, is already in the process of closing some of its 223 coffee shops, starting with those in the red light district to tackle “criminal activity” in the area, and is currently studying the government proposal.
“We are taking the current practice as a starting point,” an Amsterdam city spokesman said. “It is not perfect but in many ways we have a functioning coffee shop system.”
The government’s plan to ban tourists from the cannabis shops — whereby only holders of a resident’s pass would be allowed to buy hash and marijuana at them — has not yet been formally put into law, and no timetable has yet been proposed.
A spokesman for Opstelten said on Thursday that details of the plan are “uncertain,” and the minister will make a formal proposal sometime next year.
Personal possession of up to five grams (between an eighth-ounce and a quarter-ounce) of cannabis or hash is allowed in the Netherlands, but “large-scale production and transport” remains a crime.
Some Dutch border towns including Maastricht and Terneuzen have already banned cannabis sales to foreigners to “limit crime and disturbances” such as traffic jams.
Maastricht has the right to refuse foreigners entry to its coffee shops, the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice advised in July, giving support to the Dutch government’s nationwide ban if the court followed the advice.