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News (Media Awareness Project) - US MI: Column: Netherlands' Coffee Shop Confusion
Title:US MI: Column: Netherlands' Coffee Shop Confusion
Published On:2012-02-01
Source:Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Fetched On:2012-02-04 06:00:40

Pot Tourist Ban Doesn't Go Off As Smoothly As Planned

New Year's Eve in Amsterdam was even more festive than usual this
season as thousands of European visitors flocked to the city to enjoy
what they believed would be the last night they'd be welcome in the
coffee shops of the Netherlands.

For several months, the reigning Dutch government had been trumpeting
the imminent demise of the old coffee shop regime as of Jan. 1, 2012,
and the mainstream media were only too eager to amplify the message.

Under the mandated new rules, all existing Dutch coffee shops would
be converted to members-only clubs strictly limited to the patronage
of Dutch citizens and registered expatriates, and the dreaded "drug
tourists" from all over the world would be barred from entry.

But after the border city of Maastricht and other municipalities in
Holland demanded that the government delay its plans for at least a
year, Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten announced in November that the
system won't be introduced nationwide until 2013.

At the same time, Opstelten insisted that cannabis cafes in three
towns in the south of the country - Noord-Brabant, Limburg and
Zeeland - will have to turn themselves into members-only clubs by May
1 of this year as a sort of pilot program for the new policy.

Coffee shop owners in Maastrict have already banned all but Dutch,
German and Belgian nationals from buying cannabis products in an
effort to appease the government, and the border towns of Bergen op
Zoom and Roosendaal have gotten rid of their coffee shops altogether.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands, 16 coffee shops In Rotterdam have been
shut down because they were located within 250 meters of schools. If
this proscription were applied across the country, another 94 coffee
shops would have to close. To make things even worse, the government
wants to extend the distance-from-school rule from 250 to 350 meters,
which will shut down even more coffee shops.

This whole mess started in 2006 when the city of Maastricht decided
to ban tourists from the local coffee shops and a coffee shop owner
was forced to close after two non-Dutch nationals were found on his premises.

In upholding the legality of the city's action, The Netherlands'
highest court, the Council of State, appealed to the high European
court - sort of the EU equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court - to
issue a ruling that the Maastricht ban does not conflict with EU laws.

Last July, EU Advocate General Yves Bot said the Netherlands was
within its rights to ban tourists from coffee shops. Bot said he
considers the move necessary to "protect public order" and "reduce
the nuisance caused by drug tourism." In addition, Bot said, the ban
would contribute to European efforts to combat the illegal drug trade.

In Amsterdam, the City Council opposes the introduction of the
membership scheme. "We are concerned about the problems that will
arise from large-scale street dealing," one councilman said, adding
that "there are also health concerns, because with street dealing we
cannot monitor the quality of the soft drugs or the age of the buyers."

The city had solved these problems in the early 1970s when it
decriminalized recreational drug use and allowed the establishment of
coffee shops as places where cannabis products could be sold and
consumed in-house.

But the Dutch policy of tolerance has never been at all popular with
most other European governments nor the draconian American
authorities, and the social truce that has allowed over-the-counter
cannabis commerce in Holland to flourish has always been an uneasy one.

The recent demonstration of official opposition to the coffee shop
culture has been a long time coming, but now it looms large on the
immediate societal horizon. The Christian Democratic party (CDA) that
ruled in the 1990s and early 2000s and remains part of the current
government has never fully accepted the "gray area" philosophy, and
now that its coalition partners comprise the Liberals and the
anti-Islam party led by Geert Wilders, the CDA is making its move
with unprecedented confidence.

The intensified crackdown on the coffee shop culture seems to have
been enabled by the findings of a government commission in 2009 that
concluded hashish and marijuana are far more powerful now than when
the "gray area" policy was introduced in the 1970s. (This increase in
potency, of course, is the result of the rapid development of the
Dutch growing community and its wizardry in generating new and ever
more effective strains of marijuana.)

At the same time, according to the authorities, the bigger the coffee
shop industry becomes, the more likely it is to come into the grasp
of "organized crime." To that end, the commission recommended cafes
become smaller and should sell only to locals.

The illegal growing industry is thought to be worth some $2.6 billion
a year, involving some 40,000 people in marijuana cultivation
operations on what they call plantations, of which some 5,000 are
busted each year. The Dutch government now intends to increase its
efforts to drive "organized crime" out of the production and trade of
marijuana and to seize the assets of convicted drug criminals.

The crazy thing is that, with marijuana cultivation and distribution
remaining illegal, persons engaged in these activities are organized
criminals by definition. If they really want to get "organized crime"
out of the cannabis business, they would simply legalize marijuana
completely and all that crime would just go away since it wouldn't be
"criminal activity" any longer.

The war against marijuana users and the cannabis culture is
particularly absurd because there's no social harm that's ever been
proved to result from viping beyond the possible inducements to
race-mixing and guilt-free sexual activity that are proscribed by the
orthodox religious order.

Here in Holland, the long-term tolerance of the cannabis culture has
both created an atmosphere that attracts weed-smoking pilgrims to
make up a significant portion of the local tourist economy and
fostered a full-scale cannabis industry that generates billions of
euros worth of business within the intimate confines of this tiny nation.

Accordingly, every knowledgeable person I have consulted about the
issue continues to scoff at the notion that the state can transform
the coffee shop culture by means of the pending legislation.

My friend and mentor Michael Veling, proprietor of the 420 Cafe and a
life-long cannabis activist in Amsterdam, remains convinced that the
year-long moratorium now in effect will no doubt end in a further
extension of the truce rather than a victory for the suppressive forces.

"There is no way they are going to be able to demonstrate in the
courts that 'drug tourism' constitutes a 'public nuisance' or a
'threat to public order,'" Veling told me, adding that Justice
Minister Opstelten, a Liberal Party member, will have to report back
to the CDA representatives - who started this shit thinking they
could finally win the battle - that he tried everything but it proved
impossible to enforce their mandate and things will have to continue as before.

At any rate, Veling stressed, would-be drug tourists from America and
elsewhere will definitely be welcome in the coffee shops of Holland
for at least the entire present year. C'mon over, he said, we
appreciate your business.

- -Amsterdam

Jan. 26-27, 2012
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