Hard soft drugs policy can die at City Hall

Amsterdam - According to the Ministry, municipalities may decide themselves how they act against coffee shops that boycott the weed pass. One plus one equals two. Many municipalities are against the weed pass, so they will not proceed to closure quickly.

They were unconditionally against the introduction of the weed pass, the mayors of municipalities with coffee shops. And now they get the opportunity to convert their opposition into policy from the Ministry of Security and Justice. 'Municipalities are allowed to decide for themselves how they act against coffee shops who fail to stick to the weed pass,' the Ministry informs.

Remarkable, because minister Opstelten’s rigid soft drugs policy may die at the gates of the city hall. For many mayors will not think about closing the coffee shops. Then you can be sure that the trade in soft drugs will go underground, illegal traders take over the market, with public nuisance and crime as a result. Because the city councils themselves can impose sanctions, arbitrariness threatens.

In two months, time will come. As of May 1st, the club card will have to be introduced in Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland. Then, coffee shops are only allowed to sell soft drugs to 2,000 registered members, to people with a Dutch passport, in order to ward off drug tourists.

Estates

Ever since Opstelten presented the hated weed pass, criticism is substantial. Not only from the coffee shops, that predict a considerable decline in revenue in some cities such as Amsterdam and in the border region, but also from the municipalities. Venlo, for example, is against as well as Den Bosch, Breda, Eindhoven and Tilburg. They fear that the illegal street trade in soft drugs increases due to the member registration, which has implications for the quality of life in their city. Stories are already circling in Venlo that criminals are buying houses from which they will carry on illegal business later.

The Haarlem coffee shop owners are the first to have announced that they will not enter the weed pass. They recently held a survey showing that only 12 percent of their customers want to register. This is not enough to live off.

But, law is law and must be followed, which a spokesman for the Ministry of Security and Justice also says. 'The mayor is responsible and he/she should take action. As a last resort, he could close the coffee shop.'

A small matter of tipping it over the fence. At national level something is decided and local government is burdened with it. And now it gets interesting. Because it is left to the municipalities, it may be possible that Mayor Hoes of Maastricht will take action against unruly coffee shop owners differently than Mayor Rombouts of Den Bosch.

The municipality of Haarlem will follow how the introduction of the new law goes in the south the coming months. 'We still have to decide how we will act in Haarlem,' Renske Piet explains, spokeswoman of the municipality of Haarlem. 'The city council has the last word, because it determines the policy of sanctions.' The most drastic measure to close the coffee shops seems inappropriate to her, because the trade in soft drugs will then go underground.

In the south, two months prior to the introduction, it is still not clear how the municipalities will respond to disobedient coffee shop owners. Much is talked about that between the mayors, the Minister and the Public Prosecutor. Spokesman Arnoud Strijbis of the municipality of Eindhoven explains that Mayor Van Gijzel has constantly referred to the enforcement problems that will arise at the Minister.

Yes, the mayor will have to stand firm, for which he or she can use administrative law or he calls in help from the Public Prosecutor and then it goes through criminal law. Administrative law can be used when public order and safety are at stake. It is doubtful however whether a refusal to enter the weed pass harms the public order and safety and is thus sufficient to close a coffee shop. The expectation is that long legal procedures will be conducted in court to get jurisprudence about it.

According to Strijbis, enforcement can still go in any direction because the criteria for this have yet to be determined by the mayors and the Minister. In a letter from Minister Opstelten that he has sent to the municipalities on 15 December, it is stated, among others, that 'the mayor maintains the new drug policy in consultation with the Public Prosecutor and police, in accordance with local priorities.' Not a very clear indication. He is clear when it comes to the origins of illicit drug markets. These should be directly addressed.

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