Catching Up on Dutch Coffee Shop News
Just thought readers might like a small update on the coffee shop / marijuana situation in the Netherlands and the city we all adore, Amsterdam. For a while now we have been hearing about a ban on cannabis for any foreigners visiting Amsterdam, in fact there were a lot of rumours and myths going around as to what exactly was going on. The reality today is quite a complex set of rules pressing down on the coffee shops of old and making their existence that much more difficult.
In fact, as is usual when the government gets involved and doesn’t really seek the views of the affected communities (and only focuses on the needs of big business), it seems the Netherlands’ has become more of a place where its coffee shops are being run and supplied by those without any community mindedness while others are busy tying up legislation to make sure only the right kind of fat cats will reap the rewards. There is angst and consternation behind the scenes of our dearly loved Dutch coffee shop system these days!
Let’s just put things in a little perspective; there were around 400 coffee shops dotted around Amsterdam in the 1990’s, of every shape and size, ambience and groove to suit even the fussiest dope smoker – we all remember the sounds, smells and conversations emerging from those smokey hubs of conversation, chillin’ and ‘the big lazy idea’! But today, in 2015, there are less than half of those coffee shops left.
The Poke in the Blind Eye
For decades now, it has been Dutch leaders who have been agreeing to turn a blind eye to the running of the coffee shops as long as they met certain requirements and the locals declared they were happy enough too. However, those requirements are now constantly changing and are being too often being implemented alongside the popularity contests and whims of local politicians.
So today, many more rules and regulations have come to the door of the Dutch coffee shop, some owners felt they were being squeezed out of business; rules such as –
- not more than 5 grams per person per day may be sold;
- hard drugs must not be sold;
- there must be no sales to minors and minors must not be allowed into a coffee shop;
- no alcohol may be served on the premises;
- there must be no advertising of drugs;
- there must be no disturbances in the vicinity of the shop;
- the shops’ stock must not exceed 500 grams.
OK – all of those sound relatively reasonable. But it isn’t those rules, it is others that are cause the difficulties, such as the particularly challenging ‘a premises cannot be within 250 meters from a school’, which caused 40 coffee shops to instantly close. (A coffee shop is unable to re-open once it is shut, causing people to rightly fear that, after a time, no coffee shops will be left at all). And there are more discretionary rules like “do not cause a nuisance.” In the end, each municipality has to decide if these rules are being followed.
Another rule has become known as the ‘Wietpas’, better known as ….
The Weed Pass for Foreigners
This ‘Wietpas’ or Weed Pass rule is probably the most infamous one to have happened. It is also the one all of us foreigner’s want to know about. What has happened to this law?
In 2012, which we reported on here, the ‘wietpas’, or weed pass, was brought in. It was designed as we know, to curb cannabis tourism by banning those annoying, drunk foreigners from the many usually peaceful, coffee shops. Fortunately for many, cities were allowed to opt out of the scheme, and for Amsterdam – which stood to lose millions of tourist dollars – the decision was simple, the mayor said, ‘No Thanks’. The national law that was banning foreigners from buying weed at the legal coffee shops has actually become widely ignored in most of the country since its inception, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the two largest cities whose mayors basically refuse to comply with the central government’s decision.
Currently, it is only the country’s southern provinces that have implemented the ban outlawing the sale of drugs to tourists by the infamous coffee shops and have limited sales to government-issued “weed pass”-carrying locals.
The coffee shop owners argue that the ban has devastated their business, damaged the local economy and led to an increase in illegal street dealing.
We Told You So!
A Dutch News article comparing ‘police and city council figures’ reports that “the decision to ban foreigners not resident in the Netherlands’ from the country’s cannabis cafes have led to an ‘explosion’ in drug-related crime in the south of the country. The governments’ decision to turn the cafes into ‘members only clubs’ in the southern provinces last May led to a sharp rise in street dealing. In Maastricht, at the forefront of efforts to reduce drug tourism, the number of drug crimes has doubled over the past year while in Roermond they are up three-fold with at least 60 active street dealers.”
Although according to other surveys recently published in the local Dutch press, two-thirds of the entire country’s 478 cannabis cafes continue to sell marijuana to tourists, it appears to be creating a new, north-south cannabis selling divide. And although there were many tourists in the border areas in the past, they were busy buying food, smoking dope, staying in hotels, spending money in legal places, etc. Now the local inhabitants seem to be really annoyed at the ‘change’ of the atmosphere into ‘pushy drug dealing’. Cannabis buyers must now buy off the local heroin or crack dealer in some darkened street, which is a real shame when all of us could have just bought it in a COFFEE SHOP like a normal person! Prohibition strikes again.
In any case, the ban at least appears to leave a loophole for a local, ‘tailor-made’ approach, permitting licensed coffee shops to continue selling small amounts of cannabis to any adult for personal use and there has been a court case brewing declaring the ban ‘unconstitutional’, which it may indeed be.
Amsterdam’s mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, for example, has made clear that his city will not ban tourists from its 220 coffee shops because “the legislation makes it possible to take local circumstances into account.” The mayors of many other towns support and follow his position, and a recent visit to Amsterdam by yours truly also confirms this kind of weedy old fashioned kindness still extended to foreigners. Phew!
Once again, the grey areas in Dutch laws, mean the rest of us can breathe a massive sigh of relief and can still squeeze quietly through the doors marked ‘this way, just more quietly please’. And do keep in mind, while possession is not legal the police do turn a blind eye to people with less than five grams. So civilised!
At least 10 of Netherlands’ local councils, among them some of the biggest cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague have called for regulated growing, arguing that legalized production would remove organized crime from the equation. But others think that such solution would just require only government-licensed growers, and that would mean an even greater crackdown on foreign imports and possibly even dumping any local producers in favour of the slicker big business types.
What About Americas’ Smokin’ Hopefuls?
If vast legal grey areas are still the Dutch model’s biggest liabilities, then, where America is concerned, stability is Washington’s biggest strength. Very little is going to be left to chance under ruling I-502. “Each marijuana grower, processor, and seller will be vetted, licensed, and watched over. Marijuana will be traceable, tested for quality, and come equipped with a lot number, a warning label, and the concentration of THC. Retailers will look more like pharmacies than drug dens and, most importantly, smoking pot inside the stores will be strictly verboten. Prohibiting Amsterdam-style coffee shops wasn’t an oversight, but a pragmatic decision meant to allay the fears of some of Washington’s more conservative voters. After spending much time and money on public opinion research, I-502 organizers realized the idea – however unfounded – of a bunch of perpetually stoned kids lurking around neighborhood coffee shops was just too much for many Washingtonians to stomach.” Thanks to C. Rodreigez from Forbes Life.
BUT!!! Don’t Miss This!!!
This terrific new short movie, supplementing the fascinating report of the Open Society Foundation
, tells the story of the Dutch model and highlights its successes, as well as the challenges ahead of it. Drugreporter says ” It is an English website created by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. The website was created in 2004 to promote drug policy reform advocacy in the region. In 2007 we started our video advocacy program and our website has become an international hub for English and Russian language news articles, blogs and films about harm reduction and drug policy reform. Our film database has hundreds of short films aiming at educating and mobilising people.”
But Wait Again!!
Drug-related death and disease are less prevalent than in many countries with restrictive drug laws. This is the conclusion of the report produced by the Open Society Foundations, authored by two excellent researchers, Jean-Paul Grund and Joost Breeksema. Click the link ahead to download the report! coffee-shops-and-compromise-20130713
Check Out The DR Film, thanks HCLU!
Final note: Just a thought – this was a story about Britain getting its first cannabis coffee shop in Kent, discussed just last year! Click here if your interested. We in Britain await with baited, but ageing, breath…