Dutch crack down on marijuana tourism

By chillinwill · Feb 4, 2010 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    And what's more, Dutch youth aren't even interested in smoking weed

    In the back street cannabis den, a French-speaking Arab youth with a pierced lower lip and a rhinestone encrusted baseball cap leans across the bar to order his fix of choice.

    "Hot chocolate, please," he intones in heavily accentuated English.

    "With whipped cream?" asks the fresh-faced young barrista in the 420 Cafe.

    "Yes, please.”

    A group of teenage English boys, their polite manners contrasting with the hair-raising heavy metal designs on their T-shirts, is also drinking the warm, frothy brew. Above them a large flat screen TV is showing a documentary about Antarctic bird life.

    A penguin protects her chicks from a hungry gull as two Spanish girls debate whether to get high on "White Widow," “Blueberry” — brands from the marijuana menu — or to take a slice of the peanut butter and white chocolate weed-laced "space cake."

    From inside this cozy, 100-year-old-bar-turned-hash-house it appears the Amsterdam drug scene has mellowed since the Dutch government began to "decriminalize" cannabis in the late 1970s.

    "Some specimens of my tribe, and I think I can include myself, are considered to be respectable citizens," said Michael Veling, owner of the 420 Cafe.

    “We even have a working relationship with the tax office,” added Veling, a spokesman for the Cannabis Retailers Association which represents many of the more than 700 “coffee shops” that openly serve the drug in the Netherlands.

    After 30 years of high times, Amsterdam continues to attract waves of youthful tourists eager to smoke a reefer or two without having to look over their shoulder for the cops. However Dutch attitudes are changing. Successive conservative-led governments have tightened restrictions on cannabis sales, while local youngsters seem increasingly indifferent to the coffee shops’ charms.

    A report from European Union’s drug monitoring center made headlines in November when it showed young Dutch people lagged well behind many of their European neighbors when it came to smoking weed.

    According to the survey, 11.4 percent of Dutch people aged 15 to 24 had consumed cannabis over the previous year, down from 14.3 percent eight years earlier. The Netherlands was ranked 13th out of 23 nations — way behind countries such as Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic, which register more than double the Dutch rate.

    In the 420 Cafe, the only locals in view were a group of 50-something friends of the owner nodding contentedly to the Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix tunes coming from the sound system.

    “It’s not as exciting [for Dutch kids] as it is in other countries and we had education together with the tolerant attitude, so our kids know about drugs,” said Veling.

    “Our customers are mainly from England and the United States, but because of the economic crisis the percentage of continental Europeans has risen,” he said. “Last summer we saw the first wave of Chinese middle class, that’s a very promising market.”

    Veling is perhaps unique among coffee shop owners in that he is also an active member and one-time city councilor with the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal party of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, which has done much to clamp down on the Dutch dope trade in recent years.

    Coffee shops have seen the maximum amount they can sell customers reduced from 30 grams to 5 grams. In 2007 a ban on cannabis outlets serving alcohol was enforced, meaning coffee shop owners had to choose between booze or pot — which explains why the strongest drinks at Cafe 420 are coffee, tea and chocolate. Moreover, advertising for cannabis is banned, so while souvenir shops selling T-shirts festooned with marijuana-leaf designs abound, coffee shops are not allowed to use the image.

    Many city councils prohibit the opening of new coffee shops and are quick to shut down any that break the rules. A ban on smoking tobacco in all Dutch cafes and bars hit the coffee shops hard when it was introduced in July 2008, since cannabis cigarettes are often mixed with tobacco. Now the rule is widely ignored.

    "There are all kinds of ridiculous regulations,” said Fredrick Polak, a veteran campaigner for more liberal drug laws. “It does not work, it is counterproductive … the state has no business interfering with individual grown-up citizens and what they want to put in their bodies."

    Polak, a white-haired, 67-year-old psychiatrist who works at Amsterdam’s drug dependency unit, said Dutch authorities have caved into pressure from neighboring nations concerned that so many young people were buying cannabis in the Netherlands to take back home.

    French, Belgian and German authorities have been particularly worried about a proliferation of outlets in border cities, so the Dutch government has sought to crack down on “drug tourism.”

    The cities of Bergen op Zoom and Rosendaal near the Belgian border closed down six of their eight coffee shops last year after residents complained about rowdy behavior from an estimated 25,000 drug tourists passing through every week.

    In the southeastern city of Maastricht, authorities have proposed making coffee shops members-only clubs, effectively banning foreign day-trippers. The country’s largest coffee shop, Checkpoint in the southern border town of Terneuzen, was closed down in 2008 at a time when it was reportedly serving 3,000 customers a day.

    Polak complains that criminal elements continue to play a leading role in the cannabis trade due to an anomaly in the laws: While the retailing is tolerated, wholesale trade remains illegal, meaning coffee shop owners often have to get their supplies from criminal networks, which are also involved in illegal exports of the drug and violent turf wars.

    “With our system, for people who want to smoke marijuana it’s very pleasant, but on the supply side here there is no control, it’s still completely illegal, so the wrong people make very much money," Polak said.

    Paul Ames
    February 3, 2010
    Global Post

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  1. Balzafire
    [imgl=white]http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=16285&stc=1&d=1282096756[/imgl]MAASTRICHT, the Netherlands — On a recent summer night, Marc Josemans’s Easy Going Coffee Shop was packed. The lines to buy marijuana and hashish stretched to the reception area where customers waited behind glass barriers.

    Most were young. Few were Dutch.

    Thousands of “drug tourists” sweep into this small, picturesque city in the southeastern part of the Netherlands every day — as many as two million a year, city officials say. Their sole purpose is to visit the city’s 13 “coffee shops,” where they can buy varieties of marijuana with names like Big Bud, Amnesia and Gold Palm without fear of prosecution.

    It is an attraction Maastricht and other Dutch border cities would now gladly do without. Struggling to reduce traffic jams and a high crime rate, the city is pushing to make its legalized use of recreational drugs a Dutch-only policy, banning sales to foreigners who cross the border to indulge. But whether the European Union’s free trade laws will allow that is another matter.

    The case, now winding its way through the courts, is being closely watched by legal scholars as a test of whether the European Court of Justice will carve out an exception to trade rules — allowing one country’s security concerns to override the European Union’s guarantee of a unified and unfettered market for goods and services.

    City officials say they have watched with horror as a drug tolerance policy intended to keep Dutch youth safe — and established long before Europe’s borders became so porous — has morphed into something else entirely. Municipalities like Maastricht, in easy driving distance from Belgium, France and Germany, have become regional drug supply hubs.

    Maastricht now has a crime rate three times that of similar-size Dutch cities farther from the border. “They come with their cars and they make a lot of noise and so on,” said Gerd Leers, who was mayor of Maastricht for eight years. “But the worst part is that this group, this enormous group, is such an attractive target for criminals who want to sell their own stuff, hard stuff, and they are here too now.”

    In recent years, crime in Maastricht, a city of cobblestone lanes and medieval structures, has included a shootout on the highway, involving a Bulgarian assassin hired to kill a rival drug producer.

    Mr. Leers used to call the possibility of banning sales to foreigners a long shot. But last month, Maastricht won an early round. The advocate general for the European Court of Justice, Yves Bot, issued a finding that “narcotics, including cannabis, are not goods like others and their sale does not benefit from the freedoms of movement guaranteed by European law.”

    Mr. Leers called the ruling “very encouraging.” Coffee shop owners saw it differently.

    “There is no way this will hold up,” said John Deckers, a spokesman for the Maastricht coffee shop owners’ association. “It is discrimination against other European Union citizens.”

    If Maastricht gets its way, many other Dutch municipalities will doubtless follow. Last year, two small Dutch towns, Rosendal and Bergen op Zoom, decided to close all their coffee shops after surveys showed that most of their customers were foreigners.

    The situation has not made for good neighborly feelings. Many residents of border towns criticize Belgium, France and Germany for tolerating recreational drug use but banning the sale of drugs. “They don’t punish small buyers,” said Cyrille Fijnaut, a professor at the University of Tilburg law school. “But they also don’t have their own coffee shops, so that leaves us as the suppliers. Our policy has been abused, misused, totally perverted.”

    As business has boomed, many of the Dutch coffee shops — dingy, hippie establishments in the ’80s and ’90s with a few plastic tubs of marijuana on the shelves — have become slick shops serving freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee in fine china.

    The Easy Going Coffee Shop has a computer console at the door where identification documents proving that customers are 18 or older are scanned and recorded. Tiny pictures on driver’s licenses are blown up to life-size on a screen, so guards can get a good look at them. Behind the teller windows, workers still cut the hashish with a big kitchen knife, but all sales are recorded on computerized cash registers.

    Mr. Bot’s ruling last month is only an early step in determining whether Maastricht can enforce a Dutch-only policy. A final ruling by the full court is expected by the end of the year.

    But Mr. Bot’s finding, a veritable tirade on the evils of drugs, surprised many legal scholars, who expected the European Union’s open market rules to trump any public order arguments, as they have in other cases. Sweden, for instance, which has a long history of struggling with alcohol abuse, was obliged to take down most of its anti-alcohol laws restricting store hours and sales, as they were seen as impinging on free trade.

    Polls show that a majority of the Dutch still believe that the coffee shops should exist. But the Netherlands once had 1,500 of them; now, there are about 700. And every year, the numbers decline, according to Nicole Maalste, a professor at the University of Tilburg who has written a book on the subject. “Slowly, slowly they are being closed down by inventing new rules, and new rules,” Ms. Maalste said.
    Much of the criminality associated with the coffee shops, experts say, revolves around what people here call the “back door” problem. The government regulates what goes on in coffee shops. But it has never legalized or regulated how the stores get the drugs they sell — an issue that states in the United States that have legalized medical marijuana are just beginning to grapple with.

    In recent years, the tremendous volume of sales created by foreigners has prompted an industry of cultivating cannabis and other drugs within the Netherlands — some estimate that it is now a $2 billion a year business — much of it tangled in organized crime and money laundering operations, experts say.

    Advocates for legalized sales and coffee shop owners argue that trying to restrict foreigners will only encourage them to buy illegally in the streets. They also say that coffee shops have other selling points: they pay 450 million euros a year in taxes and provide thousands of jobs.

    Mr. Deckers, the shop association spokesman, said coffee shop owners were so skeptical that the European Union would allow restrictions on sales based on nationality that they encouraged the city to get a ruling on the subject. They doubt Mr. Bot’s arguments will stand. “We know he is wrong,” Mr. Deckers said.

    August 17, 2010
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