Protesters Decry Dutch Cannabis Ban


Marcel Van Hoorn/AFP
A demonstrator in Maastricht holds a giant cardboard joint protesting the new policy requiring Dutch coffee shops to insitute a “weed pass” system banning foreigners, on May 1, 2012.

Tourists smoked spliffs in the streets of cities in the southern Netherlands and defiant coffee shop owners sold joints to visitors in a protest on the selling of marijuana to foreigners which took effect on Tuesday.

Protesters in Maastricht — near the Belgian border — waved banners with marijuana leaves and slogans such as “Dealers Wanted” and “Stop Discrimination for Belgium,” report Svebor Kranjc and Thomas Escritt of Reuters.
A few hundred demonstrators gathered in the main square, with about 50 of them openly smoking joints alongside a six-foot-long fake spliff.

The new law reverses the traditional Dutch policy of tolerance of “soft drugs” and makes illegal the booming “tourist drug trade.” Coffee shops have become a major tourist destination in many parts of the country due to the easy availability of quality cannabis.
Starting on Tuesday, the cafes in three southern Dutch provinces close to the German and Belgian borders are officially only allowed to sell cannabis to registered members — who must be Dutch citizens. Authorities claim the move will somehow magically “reduce crime.”
“Now we can’t enter any more; outrageous, it’s discrimination,” a Belgian toker told Reuters.
The mayor of Maastricht, Onno Hoes (cool name, bro), was presented with a petition signed by about 300 coffee shop owners and other businessmen asking for the ban to be ended.
Maastricht’s Easy Going coffee shop closed its doors to all customers in protest, saying police would simply have to handle black market street dealing, instead.
In recent weeks, dealers from northern France, Belgium and eastern Europe have begun plying their trade in the streets, according to Marc Josemans, who heads Maastricht’s coffee shop association.
“Now this is totally new for Maastricht; we never had this problem, so actually we are creating more problems than we are solving,” Josemans said.
The new ban on foreigners in coffee shops — passed by the Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition, which collapsed last month — was introduced in January and will first be enforced in the southern provinces before being rolled out nationwide — including in worldwide tourist destination Amsterdam — next year.
Coffee shops will be limited to a maximum of 2,000 registered members, who will be required to have a local address.
Politicians claimed the measure was needed to stamp out crime “related to the drug trade” and to “limit cannabis consumption,” but nobody without their head up their ass believes that. The actual effects will be to create more “drug-related crime” by driving the cannabis trade into the streets, and it won’t “limit” anything except the tax money these cities have, until now, enjoyed.
Opponents of the law pointed out that it will drive cannabis users into the criminal black market, and that the membership lists, limited to local residents, raise civil liberties concerns.
In the southern Dutch city of Tilburg, some coffee shops sold joints and packets of weed to foreigners in open defiance of the new law.
It was business as usual, according to Willem Vugs, proprietor of the ‘t Oermelijn coffee shop in Tilburg. “We’ve been selling cannabis to anybody who comes, as normal,” Vugs said. He is one of several coffee shop owners who wants to be hauled into court so the ban can be legally tested.
“We are being forced to discriminate against foreigners,” he said. “My customers dont’ want a membership list. For one thing, smoking cannabis is technically illegal and for another, people worry that police will have access to the list.”
Maastricht Mayor Hoes said such concerns were unwarranted, and claimed the information would not be used for anything other than checking the coffee shops’ clientele.
According to Vugs, his shop hosts about 800 visitors a day, including 150-200 a day from neighboring Belgium, less than half an hour away by automobile.
“They don’t just spend their money here; they buy groceries and fill up their cars, too,” Vugs said, arguing that the loss of customers could be economically painful for Tilburg.
For years, the Netherlands has tolerated the sale of up to five grams of marijuana and hashish per person per day in the coffee shops. Up to five marijuana plants per person are also allowed under the Dutch “tolerance” policy.