EU DRUGS CLAMPDOWN COULD SPELL TROUBLE FOR DUTCH MARIJUANA 'COFFEE SHOPS'
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner announced yesterday that access to popular Dutch 'coffee shops' to smoke marijuana could be cut for foreigners - including other EU citizens - as part of a new European Union drugs control policy.
Donner, whose country holds the EU presidency, said a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers agreed on guidelines for setting up an eight-year drugs action plan in the 25-nation bloc.
Under the strategy, EU countries would coordinate efforts to cut supplies of soft and hard drugs, as well as demand, through prevention programs and police enforcement.
Donner said his country - where hundreds of thousands of tourists head to benefit from the famously relaxed policy on soft drugs like marijuana - would have to "draw consequences" from an expected stricter EU drugs policy.
"Drugs tourism should be fought," Donner said, adding that access to cafes selling joints could be barred for nonresidents of the Netherlands, including other EU citizens. "That's an idea where we should be headed,"
Donner said. He did not elaborate how this could be enforced.
Dutch officials said the government is setting up a pilot project in Maastricht where entry into coffee shops would be restricted to those with special passes only.
The Dutch government has drafted tougher cannabis laws in an effort to reduce the number of coffee shops where marijuana is sold and to ban sales of cannabis to tourists in border areas.
There are around 780 coffee shops in the Netherlands, but half of them are in the three big cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. About 80 per cent of municipalities do not permit coffee shops.
Despite heavy pressure and criticism from countries like France and Sweden against the relaxed drugs policy in the Netherlands, Dutch officials argue their policy has not resulted in a rise of users.
A government-funded study in May found the use of marijuana among Dutch youth declined somewhat in recent years.
The sale of small quantities of marijuana and hashish is tolerated and is sold at coffee shops like shots of whiskey at bars. The soft drugs, however, remain a controlled substance under Dutch law and technically its sale and use is illegal.
Government figures say the number of people who tried marijuana in the Netherlands ranks in the middle of a range of EU countries, the United States and Australia. The Netherlands has taken a hard line against drugs like cocaine and Ecstasy however, where possession is prosecuted.