Dutch coffee shops allowed to sell cannabis to foreigners, for now

By Balzafire · Jun 29, 2011 · ·
  1. Balzafire
    The closure of a coffee shop that sold cannabis to foreign visitors has been deemed unlawful by the top Dutch court. However, the court's decision hinted there would be legal grounds for a change to the law in future.

    The top court in the Netherlands has ruled that coffee shops - where you are legally allowed to buy and smoke cannabis - can remain open to foreign nationals.

    The test case was that of Maastricht coffee shop Easy Going which was closed temporarily in 2006 by the mayor of the city after it allowed foreigners to enter and consume marijuana. The mayor said this was forbidden by a local bylaw.

    On Wednesday, the Dutch Council of State said this bylaw contravened the Opium Act and was therefore unlawful.

    Victory for coffee shops?

    The court case was a big victory for Easy Going's owner Marc Josemans, who has been battling the authorities on this issue for more than eight years.

    Josemans is leader of the local union for coffee shop owners in Maastricht, where around three-quarters of business comes from tourists from nearby Belgium and Germany.

    Josemans took his case to court because he was "confident" that the Dutch court would support him.

    "Coffee shops are not a problem, that has been proven," said Josemans. "Coffee shops serve a function in the community, they pay a lot of taxes and they are frontline soldiers in the war against hard drugs."

    Marc Josemans in his coffeeshopMarc Josemans' coffee shop was at the center of the row

    However, the case is not a clear-cut victory for the coffee shops. In the statement announcing the verdict, the Council of State said excluding certain customers due to their nationality would be "compatible" with both Dutch and European law.

    The statement said although it infringes on the European law on the freedom to provide services, it is "permissible in the interests of combating drug tourism and the nuisance associated with it." This is in line with a December ruling from the European Court of Justice, meaning that banning foreigners from coffee shops in future would not be unconstitutional.

    Tighter restrictions

    This legal leeway comes as the center-right government in the Netherlands looks to introduce stricter regulations on coffee shops in order to reduce drug tourism.

    Ivo Opstelten, minister for security and justice, has announced plans to introduce a nationwide membership scheme for coffee shops, commonly known as the "weed pass." This would make coffee shops members-only, with membership restricted to those carrying Dutch passports.

    The idea has already passed the Dutch lower house of parliament and Opstelten wants the policy to be rolled out in border towns and municipalities.

    But there are concerns that the introduction of such a weed pass would be unworkable, and would only serve to push drug dealing onto the black market.

    "It means all the tourists that come to Maastricht will just buy their products on the illegal circuit," said Josemans. "So actually, our government is providing good jobs for criminals."

    Josemans and other coffee shop owners have called on the government to sit down with them and come to some kind of mutual agreement to improve the current drug policy.

    "This kind of firm politics gets us nowhere and only makes the problem worse," said Josemans.

    By Catherine Bolsover

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  1. jon-q
    Access to Maastricht cannabis cafes to be limited:

    THE HAGUE (AFP) – Smoking a joint in Maastricht's coffee shops is to be reserved for Dutch, Belgian and German customers from October in a bid to cut problems associated with drug tourism, owners said Friday.

    "The authorities have signalled that the coffee shops will be shut if the problems do not ease," said Marc Josemans, president of the Maastricht Association of Coffee Shops.

    About 1.4 million foreigners visit the city's 14 coffee shops every year, more than half of them Belgian, followed by the French and Germans.

    They have been blamed for traffic jams, nocturnal disturbances, and attracting drug pushers to Maastricht's streets.

    "Yet an investigation has shown that customers from bordering countries tend to use public transport and therefore cause little or no traffic problems," said Joseman, owner of the "Easy Going" coffee shop.

    By banning access to the French, Spanish, Italian and Luxemburgers, the operators hope to cut the associated problems by a fifth.

    The city council has denied threatening to close the coffee shops however, saying it had planned to relocate some of the cafes out of the centre from 2013.

    The Dutch government is currently working on the introduction of a "cannabis card" reserved for nationals and obligatory when visiting one of the country's 670 licenced coffee shops.

    Justice ministry spokesman Jean Fransman said last month's ruling by the Dutch Council of State -- the country's highest administrative court which also advises the government on legal issues -- that the "residence criteria" did not contradict Dutch law offered the possibility of introducing such a card.

    The European Court of Justice ruled in December that banning foreigners was justified "by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance".

    Though technically illegal, the Netherlands decriminalised the possession of less than five grammes (0.18 ounce) of cannabis in 1976 under a so-called "tolerance" policy.

    Coffee shops are currently permitted to stock no more than 500 grammes (a little over one pound) of the soft drug at any given time.

    Yahoo News 6th Aug 2011
  2. jon-q
    Maastricht bans cannabis coffee-shop tourists

    A ban on some foreign tourists has come into force in the cannabis-selling coffee shops of the Dutch border city of Maastricht.

    City authorities say the influx of tourists buying soft drugs is threatening public order and causing major traffic problems.

    Coffee shop owners say the ban won't work and will hit the local economy.

    However, the ban does not apply to visitors from Germany and Belgium who are the majority of foreign customers.

    The move comes ahead of a proposed nationwide crackdown being discussed in the Dutch parliament.

    The BBC's Anna Holligan says the ban is being seen as a test case that could be implemented in other Dutch towns and cities.

    There are about 700 coffee shops in the Netherlands. The cultivation and sale of soft drugs through them is decriminalised although not legal.

    An estimated 6,000 people visit Maastricht's coffee shops every day - most making the quick trip across the border from Belgium and Germany.

    But from Saturday, anyone who doesn't hold a Dutch, Belgian or German passport will be told to leave.

    Hi-tech security scanners have been set up to check passports and ID cards, and police will carry out random checks.

    City authorities say drug tourists pose a threat to public order.

    'Revenue lost'

    But critics of the policy say the ban contravenes EU policies of equality and the freedom of movement.

    Marc Josemans, chairman of the Association of Official Coffee Shops Maastricht (VOCM), said the ban would do more harm than good.

    "All these clients who are banned from the Dutch coffee shops... have to return to the illegal circuit in their own country, therefore it will become a bigger problem and cause more criminality in those countries," he told Reuters.

    VOCM says visitors attracted by the coffee shops also spend an estimated 140m euros (£120m) elsewhere in the city every year.

    Correspondents say the Dutch justice ministry wants coffee shops to operate like members' only clubs, serving only local residents.

    The European Court of Justice ruled last December that Dutch authorities could bar foreigners from cannabis-selling coffee shops because they were combating drug tourism.

    BBC News 1st Oct 2011
  3. Plasma
    Interesting article about the implications of this ban on larger cannabis vending cities i.e. Amsterdam :
  4. Routemaster Flash

    Hey guys, I've recently moved to the Netherlands and there's quite a nice-looking 'coffee' shop a few minutes' walk from my flat. Now I'm not a massive weed nut but it's nice now and then...so does anyone have any up-to-date information on the law about foreign nationals and cannabis shops? I'll be registered with the city hall here soon, so I'll be able to prove I'm not a tourist, although obviously I'm a foreigner.

  5. mrsolearyscow
    My dog was in a coffeeshop as a tourist earlier today, so selling to foreigners is hardly a problem.
  6. C.D.rose
    The wietpas (weed-pass) hasn't been introduced anywhere in the Netherlands so far. Last time I heard about it, it was said that it would be introduced in some southern provinces first, but that has not happened yet and is not about to happen. Thus, as long as you're over 18, you can enter any coffeeshop in the Netherlands.

    As for the future: I'm not sure what's going to happen (duh), but the question is basically really how the next legislative elections are going to turn out. If conservatives and right liberals are going to successfully continue their "coalition" with the PVV after the next election, there may be change ahead regarding Dutch drug policy. But a decades-old, and relatively successful public policy will not be dismantled in one or two years' time. (Or so I hope.)

    Anyhow, just to point out, coffeeshop are currently operating just as they have always done.

    Edit: Oops, there's one thing I forgot. Coffeeshops in the city of Maastricht are only accessible for Germans and Belgians, and Dutch customers themselves of course. This is a voluntary move by Maastricht's coffeeshop owners, who try to prevent legislative crackdown by making some concessions to local politicians ("getting ahead of the curve").
  7. zerozerohero
    Just a little heads-up regarding the infamous wietpas (weed-pass) and the legal background noise they seem to be generating in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe (and as an elaboration of what's said above):

    The wietpas is not yet "in service" - It was supposed to enter service by Jan 1st 2012, which obviously won't happen since nothing has been voted that would give this measure means and a legal frame.
    Some border cities have been pushing to get this done as soon as possible but i'm unsure of their success.
    What i'm sure of are two points:
    - The wietpas won't be active in the whole netherlands before a long long time, if at all.
    - The Netherlands are a wonderfull but damn small country, if border cities were to close coffee-shops to tourists, they wouldn't have much driving to do to get their goods elsewhere in the country.

    Many aspects of an hypotheticl new legislation around cannabis are being discussed (wietpas, legalisation of production, limiting the thc levels etc. ..) in the netherlands right now, and frankly, depending on who one listens to, everything is possible. What's certain is that no change has effectively been made to dutch legislation yet and that therefore, until further notice, nothing has changed.

    A talented french analyst of all things drugs, Arnaud Aubron, wrote in his blog a few days ago that tourists will definitely be able to enjoy their spliffs in A'dam for New years eve this year, and fr many years to come - let's hope he's right (he often is).

    As a footnote it has to be said that the dutch system works wonders in many aspects, that it did even work better (for the state, the citizen, the health insurances, the police etc.) while production was tolerated and that most blows to drug legislation in the NL are made under pressure from other states, mainly France and Germany but many others as well.
    Trying to limit the THC levels is ridiculous, especially since we all know that THC alone is not responsible for all aspects of the cannabis "high" and other propperties.
    The wietpas idea is just plain stupid with its 1500 max members per coffee shop - 99% of the countries coffee-shops will be able to give cards to 20x their usual clientele or a few hundred tourists -> complete bogus!

    There is a lot to say on that matter, i won't elaborate for now, but as stated by CDrose, nothing has changed yet, so have fun people!

    If there are any specific questions they're very welcome,


  8. Killa Weigha
    Note to Dutch government: Folks don't come buy weed in border towns because they are on the border. They come because they are the closest place to buy weed hassle-free. Make no mistake, people will drive right past the border towns until they come to a non-Xenophobic coffee shop. Governments can be so absurd.
  9. C.D.rose
    In my earlier post, I forgot to point out the situation in Maastricht. In that city coffeeshops are only accessible to customers from the neighboring countries, i.e. Belgium and Germany, in addition to the local Dutch customers of course. This is not due to legislature, rather was it a concession on behalf of coffeeshop owners in order to limit an influx of foreign citizens.

    Generally speaking, those bordertown-questions should be treated differently from global policy solutions that are being discussed, such as the wietpas. The former are initiatives by local citizens who are annoyed by the consequences that drug tourism (or cannabis tourism) has for their city. You could say that here the problem is not so much that there are coffeeshops in the Netherlands, but rather that there are no coffeeshops in Belgium and Germany. Ideas like the wietpas, however, are responses to the idea that coffeeshops themselves are the problem, anywhere in the Netherlands, and regardless of whether tourists are coming to these coffeeshops or not.

    And to be honest, I have some understanding for those former concerns. In terms of Dutch border towns, I have only been to Hengeloo two or three times, and I didn't notice any particular disturbances caused by foreigners. However, I have gotten to know over the years quite a bunch of people who told me they would visit bordertown coffeeshops and, to be honest, some of them were complete schmucks. I would not be surprised if those types of people didn't behave any differently when they are guests in the Netherlands than they do in their home countries, and so I could imagine that some locals are actually legitimately annoyed about them. And, as far as I know, the local measures that have been adopted so far (such as the closure of all coffeeshops in bordertowns to Belgium, such as Rosendaal), are actually relatively successful for these communities. Of course, people are going elsewhere, so this is not a real solution of the actual problem. If coffeeshops were closed down for foreigners altogether though, it may even be the case that some Belgians and Germans will stay at home, because it's not like it's particularly difficult in those countries to get high-quality weed, and going to the Netherlands may not be worth the extra effort.

    That discussion should be seen separate from the issue of whether the Dutch cannabis policy itself will be changed fundamentally. There is much more at stake in this debate.
  10. fentanylwoes
    Good news...went there a year ago, caught a bluesfest in Raalte, and gonna' do it all over again next year. Let me say that people were quite orderly and no one is running around out of his or her mind...was all rather routine. Nor are people walking around with joints dangling from their lips,,,rent a bike, have a toke, and tour the Heineken Factory! Skol!
  11. Routemaster Flash
    Yeah, I'm in the south but not Maastricht. Might see if my girlfriend fancies visiting our local when she comes over to see me this w/e.

    Wow, my little post has really kicked off a flurry, hasn't it! Thanks guys.
  12. parfumeditalie
    hi all.

    I have one questions, as there are many contradictory news around.

    According to this thread:
    -MAastricht is banning other than German and Belgians on voluntary basis
    - No other town is doing so. Breda?
    - the Southern towns shoudl have started stopping to foreigners as of JAN 1st 2012, but no sign of this so far --> has anybody reported differently?
    - according to this thread: http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=173882&highlight=netherlands the date is postponed to MAY 2012, whilst Amsterdam will follow in 2013. --> is that true?

    It would be nice if there was clarity: is difficult to plan next move without knowing exaclty where to it. I already know I will say bye to my best coffeeshop since 1998 in maastricht :)

    by the way: just been to amsterdam. there is no way the town is going to give up the income of that industry. it would be irrational. they smoked too much. time to quit.


    P.S. does anybody can report if BREDA is safe town for a quick smoke for passing by foreigners?
  13. Routemaster Flash
    Got served the other day in my local in Eindhoven, no problem at all.

    Dunno if a law on foreigners would apply to me since I live here, got my Stadspas and everything. :)
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