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  1. Alfa
    DUTCH AUTHORITIES OPPOSE TIGHTER DRUGS LAW

    PLANS to tighten up the Netherlands' famously liberal attitude towards
    cannabis have met with strong resistance by local authorities across
    the country.

    The ruling conservative coalition drafted the new tougher drugs policy
    in the face of evidence showing a sharp increase in the potency of
    marijuana openly sold in many towns.

    The prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende's cabinet proposed to reduce
    the number of "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold and to ban sales
    of cannabis to foreign tourists in border areas.

    For nearly 30 years, small quantities of marijuana and hashish have
    been sold at coffee shops.

    Though the practice is tolerated, cannabis remains a controlled
    substance and technically its sale and use is illegal.

    But the policy has been met with opposition by the Association of
    Netherlands Municipalities which said the move threatens to undermine
    years of successful drugs control.

    Lex Estveld, a policy adviser, said the government was trying to fix a
    system that was not broken. "The entire Dutch drugs policy of
    controlling and containing soft drugs has proven reasonably successful
    in recent decades. If you ask me, we haven't done bad when you compare
    us to other countries," he said yesterday.

    In its policy statement to parliament, the cabinet called for research
    into the health risks of higher potency cannabis amid concerns over a
    sharp increase in the content of THC, the active chemical of the
    cannabis plant.

    If tests indicate the more powerful cannabis is psychologically
    damaging, it could be reclassified as a banned drug like cocaine and
    heroin, the cabinet statement said.

    The cabinet acknowledged the long-standing policy of toleration had
    not led to higher rates of marijuana use. But it said "the strong
    increase in THC content, and the link between cannabis users and
    psychological disorders, is a reason for concern".

    The average percentage of THC in Dutch marijuana called Nederwiet, the
    most popular on the market, has doubled in three years to 18 per cent,
    said the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. The
    most potent hashish now has a THC content of up to 66 per cent, it
    said.

    Under the government plan, the southern town Maastricht, bordering
    Germany and Belgium, will conduct a trial of the policy barring the
    sale of marijuana and hashish to tourists. It was not clear whether
    customers would have to produce proof of Dutch nationality.

    A joint statement i
    ssued by 483 municipalities said the proposed
    measures would force the marijuana business underground.

    "The tone of the letter is too influenced by foreign [opinions] and
    gives insufficient credit to the successes of local coffee shop
    policies," said the statement. "Concentrating the trade in soft drugs
    at coffee shops has the clear benefit of making it transparent and
    controllable."

    Roughly 780 coffee shops exist in the Netherlands, but half are in the
    three big cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. About 80 per
    cent of municipalities do not permit coffee shops. Government figures
    say the number of people who have tried marijuana in the Netherlands
    ranks in the middle of a range of EU countries, the United States and
    Australia.

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