AMSTERDAM — The conservative Dutch government said Thursday it is delaying plans to ban tourists from buying marijuana until at least May 2012, though it still intends to curtail the country’s famed tolerance policy.
Cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but police turn a blind eye to possession of small amounts and it is sold openly in designated cafes known euphemistically as “coffee shops.” Large-scale growers are prosecuted.
Among other measures, the Cabinet wants to introduce a “weed pass” system that will allow only legal residents of the Netherlands to buy marijuana.
Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said a test rollout in southern cities planned for January will now be delayed until May because of practical difficulties. Supporters of the idea hope it will solve problems caused by an estimated 3.9 million French, German and Belgian buyers who drive across the Dutch border annually just to purchase the drug.
Opstelten said the pass system will be applied nationwide in 2013, despite some opposition. “Coffee shop” owners say it will violate privacy laws, since it will require them to store passport and other information about their customers.
Some southern cities have begun lobbying against the plan after academics predicted it will result in street dealers taking over the marijuana trade again — the very problem the tolerance policy was introduced three decades ago to address.
“If it appears that additional (police) support is necessary, I will ensure that it’s available in a timely manner,” Opstelten said in a letter to parliament.
The city of Amsterdam also opposes the pass plan, arguing that nearly a quarter of the tourists who come to the city smoke weed, usually staying several nights and contributing to the economy rather than causing problems.
Opstelten said a separate plan to close any “coffee shop” located within 350 yards of a school will now go into effect in 2014, near the end of the current Cabinet’s term.
Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan has said he hopes to negotiate with Opstelten on that rule, since it would mean the closure of around half of the city’s “coffee shops.”
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