Netherlands: Court Bans Foreigners Buying Pot In Coffee Shops

 
on April 28 2012 7:17 AM
Local conservative politician and coffeeshop owner Michael Veling sits at the bar in his coffeeshop in the center of Amsterdam.
Local conservative politician and coffeeshop owner Michael Veling sits at the bar in his coffeeshop in the center of Amsterdam. Reuters

On Friday, a Dutch judge upheld the nationwide ban preventing foreign tourists from buying and smoking marijuana in the Netherlands' notorious coffee shops.

Starting May 1, Amsterdam, capital of Netherlands and pot tourism, will require coffee shops to issue grass or weed passes for Dutch citizens.

The law will take effect in three southern provinces and then be rolled out across the entire country next year.

The ban defies the Dutch country's gedoogbeleid, or tolerance policy.

Since 1976, the Netherlands has turned a blind eye to the buying and selling of marijuana, also called cannabis. Marijuana is considered an illegal substance in the Netherlands but has been relatively decriminalized by the police, who generally overlook possession of less than five grams, reports the BBC.

The ban was enacted after several southern cities complained about increased levels of drug-related crimes.

According to The Telegraph, the Dutch government has also become aggravated with the influx of tourists, especially Britain's youth, traveling to the Netherlands solely to smoke marijuana, consumption of which is strictly prohibited in their home countries.

However, critics of the ban argue that it will only increase the number of drug-related crimes as tourists will be pushed to purchase their marijuana from illegal distributors.

This is not good for Amsterdam, because we are not prone to the kinds of criminal activities around coffee shops that are going on in the south of Holland, said Michael Veling, owner of 420 Café.

We have tourists that just want to have a smoke. If they're not going to get it, they will ask Dutch people who actually have a pass for the coffee shop to buy it. Or they fall in hands of the illegal street sellers, Veling told the Washington Post.

Lawyers defending the Netherlands' cannabis cafes, numbering around 700 nationwide, have made the case that selling marijuana to Dutch citizens, but not to foreign tourists, is in fact discrimination, which makes the ban illegal, reports the Washington Post.

This is a bad decision not only for the foreigners who can be discriminated against now, but also for the image of the Netherlands in other countries. We are not a free country anymore because our government asks us to discriminate Maurice Veldman, a café owner and attorney for a group of cafes protesting the ban, told the Washington Post.

The lawyers plan to appeal the case immediately.

The ban can expect fierce resistance as groups of café owners have promised to ignore the ban, risking arrest.

The mayor of Amsterdam is also opposed to the ban.

The nationwide ban preventing foreigners to smoke marijuana will most likely hit the Netherlands' tourism industry hard.

It is going to cost me 90 percent of my turnover, Michael Veling also told the BBC, That is a very good reason for anyone to oppose any plan.

However, crime would not appear to be a major problem in Holland.

In September 2010, the Dutch government said it would close eight prisons because there were simply not enough convicted criminals to fill them. At that time, the Netherlands had the capacity to hold 14,000 prisoners, while the inmate population totalled 12,000 – reflecting plunging crime rates. Given the country's population amounted to about 16.6 million, only 0.07 percent were locked up. In contrast, the comparable British rate was 0.15 percent, more than double.

Presumably, the greater rate of incarceration in the UK reflected the British court system's prosecution of cannabis dealers and users.

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