Source: The Times, UK

Pub Date: Saturday, 25 October 2003

Subj: Dutch drug café ban puts British noses out of joint

Author: Anthony Browne

URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-867341,00.html

            Weed World  http://www.weedworld.co.uk/


Dutch drug café ban puts British noses out of joint


After years of tolerance, foreigners are to be excluded from Amsterdam’s cannabis shops


THOUSANDS of Britons who flock to the cannabis cafés of Amsterdam each year may be left stone cold by Dutch government plans to end “drug tourism”.


The Netherlands’ conservative Government has just unveiled a scheme to restrict access to the country’s drug-selling coffee shops to Dutch residents only. Coffee shops would be restricted to members, with membership permits sold only to local people.


The Dutch city is renowned as the drugs capital of Europe, having become the destination of choice for revellers looking for the high life. Hundreds of coffee shops openly offer menus for different types of resin and grass.


However, the Government is keen to clean up the country’s image and has been under pressure from its more puritanical neighbours, particularly France and Germany, whose citizens flock across the Dutch border to buy cannabis.


“We are willing to do something about tourists and foreigners buying hashish in coffee shops. One option is having permits for customers, and then you don’t give permits to foreigners,” a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said.


The announcement has dismayed Britain’s normally laid-back cannabis-users. “We are devastated,” Alan Buffry, of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, said. “It’s always been a refuge where you can smoke and relax without having to look over your shoulder. It was like a holiday from the police.”


The proposals have also triggered vehement protests from the Dutch coffee shops, which are fully licensed by local authorities and pay millions of pounds in tax. “It’s totally ridiculous. The minister is stupid. If this system comes in, all the tourists will buy from criminals in the street,” Arjan Roskam, of the Union of Cannabis Retailers, said.


The plans, which are to be confirmed by Christmas, were put forward by Piet Hein Donner, the Justice Minister, during a visit to Germany, which has criticised the Netherlands for not doing enough in the war on drugs.


The proposals are aimed specifically at curbing cross-border drug-trafficking. German dealers, for example, drive across the uncontrolled border, stock up at coffee shops and then return.


About 60 per cent of sales at coffee shops near the German border are to Germans, while in Amsterdam in summer about 40 per cent of coffee-shop trade is with tourists.


Local authorities are responsible for licensing coffee shops and it will be up to them to implement the scheme. The Association of Dutch Municipalities said that it would wait for the full publication of the plans before commenting. The authorities have already closed some of the less respectable coffee shops and restricted sales to 5 grams of cannabis to each customer at a time. Shops have to limit their stock to 500 grams.


The conservative Government has said that it wants to halve the number of coffee shops, which have fallen from a peak of nearly 2,000 in 1997 to 782. This year, the coffee shops survived a proposed smoking ban in all restaurants and cafés, which would have wiped them out. The ban was dropped at the last minute.


Phil Kilvington, editor of Britain’s Weed World magazine, was philosophical. With Britain downgrading cannabis to a Class C drug, he said: “It’s going to be easier to smoke here than go to Amsterdam. It’s not even very high quality there — you can get better quality here in the UK, and people are starting to realise that.


”Different smokes, different folks


Nordic countries: Possession and use of soft drugs is illegal


Britain: From January, marijuana, formerly Class B, will become a Class C drug. Possession carries a maximum term of two years, but most offenders will get off with a warning


France: Possession of soft drugs risks a heavy fine and a year in prison, but cannabis users are seldom prosecuted


Germany: Cannabis use is illegal, but those possessing small quantities are seldom prosecuted


Greece: Users can face prison, but enforcement is lax


Portugal: Cannabis is illegal, but those possessing small amounts are no longer jailed but are instead given mandatory counselling, and sometimes community service or a small fine


Switzerland: Cannabis remains illegal, but probably not for long. A government attempt to decriminalise it narrowly failed, but police still turn a blind eye to those smoking it in public


Croatia: Prosecution for possession for personal use has ended, but selling it is punishable by up to 15 years in jail Italy: A 1993 referendum decriminalised possession of a “minimum daily dose” of marijuana


Belgium: Possession of cannabis was decriminalised in 2002 Spain: Possession of marijuana for personal use carries no sanction


The Netherlands: Legislation dating back to 1976 decriminalised cannabis. Consumption and sale of the drug is allowed in coffee shops, with annual sales about £1.8 billion 

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