Holland Restricts Cannabis in Border Towns

Article and Photos By R.J. Villa

Is tourist access to Amsterdam’s coffee shops and regulated cannabis truly in jeopardy? Say it ain’t so! According to various reports on the BBC and even The Wall Street Journal, December’s rulings by the European Court of Justice on the recent crackdown in border towns has left cannabis tourists (worldwide) wondering if the 30+ years of regulated marijuana, hashish and smart drugs access in Amsterdam will be coming to a close. The Dutch and international media have been reporting the last few months about the regulations that the new government in Holland is considering for the coffee shops in the Netherlands. One of these proposed regulations would even introduce an ID pass system that would exclude non-Dutch citizens from visiting a coffee shop that distributes cannabis.

“I do not believe there will be a real restrictive change,” says Editor of the Amsterdam tourist information and travel guide website amsterdam.info, Piotr Andrejew. “There is an attempt to change the character of the whole scene, but not to shut it down. The solutions in the border regions will not be applied in the whole country.” There are close to 700 coffee shops in the Netherlands. The main international hub for marijuana tourism has always been Amsterdam. Have you taken the time to visit Amsterdam yet? A flight into Amsterdam Airport Schipohl with a short train ride into Grand Central Station and you are in the thick of it. A tram ride or adventurous cab drive towards Leidsesplein and you are ready for: street performers in Leidsesplein Square, a stroll through Vondelpark, the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums, live music at the Melkweg or Paradiso, the canals, the bicycles, the gorgeous Dutch people and of course, the regulated access to marijuana and hashish along with other smart drugs.

Laws cracking down on the border cities to Germany and Belgium have taken aim at curbing the so-called “drug tourists” who drive from foreign countries to buy marijuana. The European Court of Justice said the city of Maastricht was within its rights when it passed a 2005 law that stopped foreigners from entering cafés that sell marijuana. The European Court of Justice ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court had the Council of State targeting Marc Josemans, the owner of the cannabis coffee shop Easy Going. Josemans was forced to close his coffee shop for disregarding the 2005 “no foreigners” rule. The European Court of Justice found that the ban was “justified by the objective of combating drug tourism and the associated public nuisance.” The court added that the governments of Belgium, Germany, and even France had linked drug tourism to public order problems in their own countries. “Tourists (in Amsterdam) for the most part do not create too much of a disturbance,” states Raymond Maigret of The Bulldog Coffeeshop. “Your typical coffee shop visitors are described as peaceful by the Dutch who live adjacent to many of the shops.” Amsterdam tourists differ from these foreigners commuting to acquire weed. The typical cannabis tourist visits Amsterdam for the city itself. It is an international destination because of the city’s unique way of life, its museums, canals, rich cultural history, as well as the coffee and smart shops.

“The coffee shops that remain in the city have probably scared down, but this also happened with the whole tourism industry,” Andrejew continues. “I do not believe there was a dramatic change because of the fact that the whole scene seems quieter now. The authorities will try to leave soft drugs accessible, but cut it off as the source of income for the criminal underworld. The people of Amsterdam do not want their city to be the capital of junkies and drug addicts from all over the world. But at the same time, they have nothing against tolerance and accessibility of the soft drugs. They would prefer to have a quieter scene, but not necessarily smaller. Any kind of sharp restrictions will have the opposite effect to the intended. The criminal world will control what would eventually become illegal and reap even bigger profits than before.”

The Netherlands continues to be a flagship for marijuana and soft drug tourism. This soft approach to soft drugs has allowed the authorities to focus on the harder drug element that exists in Holland. But, the recent rulings in the European Court of Justice have correspondents all over Europe murmuring about how Holland may appear to be on the verge of shifting their political stance on allowing foreign tourists to purchase marijuana and hashish at their world famous coffee shops. While Andrejew remains optimistic that regulations of cracking down on foreign tourists’ access in Amsterdam will not happen, Mark from The Rookies Hotel and Coffeeshop in Amsterdam speaks about the debate on this still being open.

“We have to wait for the drugs debate, maybe in February of this year, and see what comes out of that,” Mark mentions. “There is always the illegal market that would love to take this over. The local resident to Amsterdam does not want this, including the mayor. There is another law that may be coming in 2012 or within the next four years that says coffee shops are not allowed to be any closer than 350 meters from a school. That means 187 shops have to close in Amsterdam.” After the potential loss of those sites, the remaining shops would then become too busy, potentially creating more of a nuisance to Amsterdam residents. Mark also believes that the implementing of an ID pass system would be “the beginning of the end.” He believes that 30% of the shops in Amsterdam will be forced to close. This regulated access would then move a bulk of the cannabis trade to underground crime; once again, linking suppliers of street cannabis to harder drugs. “They have the illusion that if you shut down the coffee shops, then cannabis consumption would go down,” Mark comments. “I think consumption will rise. Even worse, the young people will use harder drugs. And as a result, it would mean more crime on the streets.”

The use of marijuana, hashish, or smart and soft drugs in the Netherlands is still illegal, but it is tolerated in small amounts with possession and purchases limited to 5 grams per adult. The law against cannabis has not been upheld since 1976. As it stands now, a consumer’s nationality is not an issue. However, the Netherlands’ current government is considering turning coffee shops into “private member” clubs with ID passes. They feel the 30 year soft stance on drug tourism possesses a major threat to the Dutch way of life. The Wall Street Journal reported that tourists “have a reputation for rowdiness, creating havoc on the roads and in the city’s narrow medieval lanes.”

As of late, the border cities have been the main target, but many feel it is only a matter of time before the increasingly conservative government extends their regulations and bans across the Netherlands for foreign tourists. There are fears that this would eventually include Amsterdam. The ruling in Maastricht has been regarded as an important precedent because the new government is planning to use it as the model to restrict the sale of marijuana and hashish. They plan to create an ID pass system or “grass pass” that will only be given to Dutch adults, preventing foreign drug tourists from being served in cannabis cafés. But before you hit the panic button, many believe that these regulations will only continue to affect border towns, while Amsterdam will remain unaffected.

“This is another example of the symbolic politics of the new government and a case of creating problems where none exist,” remarks Maigret. “The government is making themselves look good in the eyes of neighboring countries and the rest of the European Union. An ID pass system in Amsterdam will be unnecessary and will not be introduced. This has been forwarded in a letter by the mayor to the minister in charge.”

While the political spectrum in the Netherlands appears to be in constant flux, it seems no major changes are set for the near future. However, Holland’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the current government in power may continue to implement a more conservative agenda. Whether it is symbolic politics or if they truly intend to end 30 years of foreigners traveling to the Netherlands to enjoy cannabis, it remains to be seen. Over the past decade, I have taken several trips to Amsterdam; my first visit was back in 2000 when the American dollar had an extremely favorable rate to the colorful Guilder. Studying in London at the time, I was only a cheap flight or hovercraft away from Dover. There is no time like the present to enjoy Amsterdam for the freedoms they have offered us over the past few decades. For more information on visiting Amsterdam, please refer to the following sites and locations.

amsterdam.info is an independent project run by a team of editors living locally in Amsterdam, providing its visitors with valuable information while serving attractive content within an easy-to-use structure.

The Bulldog Coffeeshop
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 220
1012 GJ Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Rookies Hotel and Coffeeshop
Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 145-147
1017 PZ Amsterdam, Netherlands

Rijks Museum
Jan Luijkenstraat 1
1071 CJ Amsterdam, Netherlands

Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
1071 CX Amsterdam, Netherlands

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