Amsterdam- The image of the Netherlands as a soft drugs paradise continues to go up in smoke. Next year, it will even be illegal for tourists to buy cannabis. Opposition to this measure is large.
There has been much controversy about the so-called weed pass in recent months. Coffee shops are allowed to sell cannabis next year, but only if they transform themselves into private clubs first. Instead of customers, they get members. Up to 2,000 per coffee shop. Only Dutch residents are welcome.
Wrong messageThat does not mean that the Department of Justice will actually hand out cards. Such a card would be far too prone to fraud, the Department thinks. And so the members have to identify themselves by using their passport or driving license. The owner of the coffee shop is to closely keep track of the membership.
But those owners are afraid of fewer customers and higher administrative costs incurred by the weed pass. Politicians are also resistant. Member of Parliament Lea Bouwmeester (Labor Party) thinks that the measure overshoots the mark. Take on the production of marijuana, she says. Not the question.'The marijuana cultivation and supply of coffee shops takes place in the criminal world and continues to grow. We need to get a grip on that.' More repression only leads to more crime, she says. And the police, charged with implementing the measure, is already busy enough.
Attracting touristsThe tourism industry is worried too. Steven van der Heijden is the head of the two largest Dutch travel agencies: Arke and Holland International. Especially in Amsterdam, he says, a visit to a coffee shop is tradition: over one quarter of the tourists does it.
It's like the Red Light District. Something that attracts many tourists to the city is now abandoned. Its impact of that will also be felt in the southern provinces. There, you will find hundreds of coffee shops that primarily do business with clients from across the border, from Belgium and Germany.
Panic soccer, as Marc Joseman describes the measure, the president of a Maastricht organization of coffee shops. 'You can see that this policy came about quickly. We expect major problems in Maastricht. It is going to be a hot summer.'
Public orderIronically, the idea of the weed pass originally stems from Maastricht. The authorities in the provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland have already been facing problems with nuisance caused by drug tourists for a longer period of time. They therefore looked for ways to review the sale to foreigners better.
The European Court has rejected an objection to the measure. There would be discrimination against citizens from other EU countries. But according to the court, maintaining public order sufficiently justifies that. The highest Dutch court gave the green light too in June.
But that does not mean that on January 1 2012, the coffee shops will be locked down for tourists. The introduction of the weed pass is to be done in phases. As a result, owners have some time for making adjustments required by the measure.