Weed Ghettos For Tourists Anger Netherlands Neighbors

Drug tourism has always been a big issue, and a big business, in the Netherlands

That land of  “laissez-faire,” with its reputation as a haven of drug tolerance, is not only mired in internal political discord over a nationwide extension of the prohibition against “soft” drug sales to tourists but also facing serious border disputes around the development of “weed ghettos” in areas near its neighbors.

Currently, only the country’s southern provinces have implemented last year’s ban outlawing the sale of drugs to tourists by the infamous coffee shops and limited sales to government-issued “weed pass”-carrying locals.

But the law created conflict mainly with an active lobby of coffee shop owners who decided to openly defy the law, triggering month-long suspended jail sentences and fines during the summer.

The battle between coffee shop owners and Onno Hoes, mayor of Maastricht (the regional capital of the south) and a stalwart supporter of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, ended at the Supreme Court in The Hague, which last week invoked a Solomon-like compromise: Move the coffee shops from the city center to so-called “coffee corners” on the edge of town.

Three coffee shop owners agreed to relocate immediately to an industrial park near the Belgian border.

However, five nearby Belgian towns weren’t amused – and the mayor of one even threatened to close roads crossing the border due to “international risk.”

“I can make all the cars returning from Maastricht undergo checks,” he told local journalists.

The national law banning foreigners from buying weed at the legal coffee shops has been widely ignored in most of the country, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the two largest cities whose mayors refuse to comply with the central government’s decision.

The battle’s been most intense in Maastricht, where Hoes claims that the 1.6 million foreign “drugs tourists” visiting the city’s 13 licensed coffee shops every year created “an unacceptable nuisance” and brought filth, noise and crime to the city.

The coffee shop owners argue that the ban has devastated their business, damaged the local economy and led to an increase in illegal street dealing.

A Dutch News article comparing “police and city council figures“ reports that “the decision to ban foreigners not resident in the Netherlands from the country’s cannabis cafes has led to an ‘explosion’ in drug-related crime in the south of the country. The government’s decision to turn the cafes into “members’ only clubs” in the southern provinces last May led to a sharp rise in street dealing.

In Maastricht, at the forefront of efforts to reduce drug tourism, the number of drug crimes has doubled over the past year while in Roermond they are up three-fold with at least 60 active street dealers.”

According to other surveys recently published in the local Dutch press, two-thirds of the country’s 478 cannabis cafes continue to sell marijuana to tourists, creating a new and sharp north-south divide.

The ban appears to leave a loophole for a local, ‘tailor-made’ approach, permitting licensed coffee shops to continue selling small amounts of cannabis to any adult for personal use. And while possession is not legal, the police turn a blind eye to people with less than five grams.

Amsterdam’s mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, for example, has made clear that his city will not ban tourists from its 220 coffee shops because “the legislation makes it possible to take local circumstances into account.” The mayors of many other towns support and follow his position.

Although Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten declared his ministry is not yet planning to impose a deadline on city councils to implement the ban, he also warned that he will not tolerate mayors refusing to ban tourists from buying marijuana.

At least 10 of Netherlands’ local councils, among them some of the biggest cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague have called for regulated growing, arguing that legalized production would remove organized crime from the equation.

Minister Opstelten has already said he will not approve that plan either.

Source: 24th Sept.2013 http://www.forbes.com/sites/ceciliarodriguez/2013/09/24/weed-ghettos-for-tourists-anger-netherlands-neighbors/

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