Dutch plan to end marijuana tourism with members-only coffee shops
MARIJUANA cafés in the Netherlands will become members-only clubs under new plans revealed by the country's new conservative government, a move that could effectively block foreigners from buying the drug.
If the plan becomes law it will be the latest of the country's liberal policies to be scrapped or curtailed as the Dutch rethink the limits of their famed tolerance.
While marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, it has been sold openly in designated cafs for decades, and police make no arrests for possession of small amounts.
Justice minister Ivo Opstelten said that in the future, only residents of Dutch cities will be allowed to buy cannabis. "Not tourists. We don't like that," he said on state television. His spokesman, Wim van der Weegen, said Mr Opstelten intended to "give a political signal". He said details of the plan were being worked out and it would be presented to parliament next year.
"This cabinet wants to bring marijuana cafs back to what they were once intended to be: for people who live in the immediate area, not large-scale criminal trade and not tourism," he said.
The city of Amsterdam, which potentially stands to lose a major tourist attraction if the policy is enforced, is not enthusiastic about the proposal. "We're looking at it now, considering it, and a formal response is coming," said spokesman Bas Bruijn.
Last year, then-mayor Job Cohen said he feared a system requiring users to obtain passes "risks increasing street trade and 'illegal' sales points". In 2008 Amsterdam rejected a ban on marijuana cafs near schools that would have led to the closure of nearly all the bars, commonly known as coffee shops.
Dutch cities in the far south complain they suffer from crime caused by the illicit marijuana trade as German, Belgian and French dealers drive to border towns to buy supplies.
Marijuana caf owners scoffed at the idea of member passes as political posturing and unworkable in practice. "It's not going to happen," said Michael Veling, spokesman for the Union of Cannabis Retailers and owner of the 4:20 caf in Amsterdam. "I'm not worried because I have something in my head that's called common sense," he said.
The new Dutch government that took office in October comprises two conservative parties with the support of the far-right anti-Islam party of populist Geert Wilders.
Crime, immigration and safety issues have dominated Dutch political debate for a decade, leading to measures such as imprisoning asylum seekers, outlawing psychedelic mushrooms, mandating citizenship classes for immigrants and forcing people to carry ID cards.
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