The Netherlands, renowned worldwide for its liberal cannabis policies, is one step closer to requiring “weed passes” to discourage sales of marijuana to foreign tourists, following a court ruling on Wednesday.
Dutch “coffee shops” openly sell cannabis flowers and hashish to customers, and are popular with foreign tourists. But the shops have faced tighter controls over the past three years as successive governments pushed to discourage the use and sale of “soft drugs” on health and crime grounds, reports Reuters.
Many of the coffee shops in Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands oppose the “weed pass” plan, maintaining that it is discriminatory and will kill the cannabis tourism industry.
But Wednesday’s ruling by the Council of State, the Netherlands’ highest judicial body, strengthened the government’s position.
|Photo: Rien Zilvold/NRC Handelsblad
|Only registered members with Dutch passports will be able to buy cannabis from coffee shops under the “weed pass” plan favored by the Dutch government
The court ruled that local authorities could not ban foreigners from local coffee shops, but added that such a ban could be introduced at a national level and would not contravene European Union laws.
In a statement [PDF] explaining the decision, the court suggested the city could have achieved the same result by relying on the country’s Opium Act, which bans marijuana despite a longstanding policy of “tolerating” retail sales, reports Jacob Sullum at Reason.
The decision seems to remove the last major legal barrier to excluding foreigners from coffee shops, but a few political barriers remain.
Local officials in Amsterdam oppose the “weed pass” policy, viewing “drug tourists” as an economic boon rather than as a menace. Amsterdam officials argue that tourists who come there for the marijuana usually stay several nights and contribute to the city’s economy, reports Toby Sterling at Forbes.com.
The ruling follows a long fight between a coffee shop in the border town of Maastricht and local authorities. The shop, owned by Marc Josemans, was ordered to close temporarily because it had admitted foreigners.
Manon Fokke, leader of the opposition Labor Party in Maastricht, said the ruling means that if the government wants to ban foreigners from coffee shops it will have to change the law — a time-consuming and difficult task. She said her city should consider other options, such as zoning coffee shops to the city’s outskirts.
But Prime Minister Mark Rutte repeated that he will go ahead with the weed pass idea in some form.
“I’m convinced that the best approach is to make coffee shops closed clubs that you need a Dutch passport and be over 18 to get into,” Rutte told the Foreign Press Association.