The days of visiting Amsterdam for the joy of openly smoking and using recreational drugs could soon come to an end after new Dutch legislation threatens drug tourism.
The present right-wing coalition government is pushing to restrict the operations of the coffee shops and to prohibit the sale of the drugs to nonresidents.
If the first phase is successful in the court challenge, as of May 1 2012, coffee shops in three southern provinces are to be turned into members-only clubs, limited to 2,000 Dutch clients each. They are to maintain a registry and check IDs. Coffee shops who break the law will face criminal prosecution. The rest of the country’s coffee shops are to follow suit on Jan. 1, 2013.
Nearly a quarter of more than four million foreign tourists a year visit its coffee shops where the sale of small quantities of cannabis are tolerated. The sale of marijuana and hashish is not legal, but a longstanding policy of tolerance means that licensed coffee shop operators are not prosecuted as long as they deal in limited quantities and keep hard drugs and minors out. The Dutch are also allowed to cultivate up to five marijuana plants each for their personal use.
A drug tolerance policy reduces the harm caused by prohibition, in part by separating the markets for hard drugs like heroin from the market for marijuana, and by getting cannabis dealers off the street and into a regulated environment.
Almost all of the hashish sold in the coffee shops is imported, illegally, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Morocco. The government would begin treating high-potency marijuana as a hard drug, like heroin and cocaine, prohibiting its sale in coffee shops.
There are those in Parliament who worry that the change will bring a return to street dealing and the crime that accompanies it. Others argue that the Netherlands, which is struggling to reduce its budget deficit, cannot afford to alienate tourists.
Coffee shop owners have so far failed in court to overturn the ban on sales to foreigners, but another lawsuit is being brought by the Cannabis Retailers Association, which represents the country’s 680 coffee shops. It should be heard in the next few weeks.
Let’s not forget there is so much more to Amsterdam than Coffeeshops, but taking away the privilege for a little high on a visit, would take away something that Amsterdam has always tolerated, and tourists know about around the world.
The New York Times – Law Could Hamper Drug Tourism
Government of Netherlands – Tightening of tolerance criteria for coffeeshops
Government of Netherlands – High-potency cannabis reclassified as a hard drug