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Amsterdam Escapes Cannabis Ban

by Amsterdam.com
​New legislation that limits the sale of cannabis to Dutch citizens only across the Netherlands will not be enforced in the city of Amsterdam in the year 2012.

The hammer finally fell. After many years of relaxed policies toward marijuana in the Netherlands, the laws that created an open Cannabis Culture and attracted thousands of tourists in the process have been changed to put an end to the sale of cannabis to foreign tourists. New legislation drafted by the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte went into effect officially on January 1st of this year and it requires the approximately 670 pot-selling coffee shops in that nation to change into members-only clubs, where only Dutch  citizens aged 18 and older can apply for membership and purchase cannabis.

The Netherlands casual approach to drugs has irritated its European neighbors for some time and the infamous “open door” policy pursued by the infamous cannabis and coffee shops is over. Prime Minister Rutte said “The objective is to combat the nuisance and crime associated with coffee shops and the trade in drugs.” Although the possession and sale of cannabis has been officially illegal in the Netherlands for a long time, the possession of five grams or less of cannabis for personal use was not prosecuted and the coffee shops could sell cannabis to anyone in amounts of up to 5 grams without breaking the law as well.

Over time, the Netherlands’s “gedoogbeleid” or policy of tolerance toward cannabis created a flourishing trade for the coffee shops as drug outlets and a world-wide cannabis tourist industry sprang up around them. According to research from the Amsterdam City Council, a full one-third of all visitors to urban centers like Amsterdam and Maastricht are primarily pot customers and not tourists looking for museums and canal rides. In some urban border towns, it is estimated that nearly three-quarters of coffee shop customers are non-residents.

Predictably, the coffee shop owners say the ban on foreigners will cut into their profits and pro-pot lobby groups claim the Dutch-only cannabis card is discriminatory and will cause trouble in the weeks to come. Not surprisingly, some coffee shops are already saying they intend to ignore the new law. However, many residents have welcomed the law change, and hope the new laws will put an end to the traffic jams, late-night disturbances in the street and the drug pushers who are there to meet the tourist demand for cannabis.

The new rules are set to roll out in just three Dutch provinces next to Belgium, France and Germany at first and then take wider effect across the country over the next year. The Dutch authorities will slowly start to enforce the changes due to the possible effects the new rules could have on tourism, and the chances of legal procedures claiming the laws discriminate against fellow Europeans. The rule changes are made more confusing by the fact that Amsterdam, home to one third of the country's coffee shops, might escape the ban altogether as the city’s government openly opposes the laws, and the recent collapse of the ruling national minority government raises questions about whether the change will be implemented in Amsterdam at all. The real outcome of the cannabis policy changes is uncertain and could be affected by the fact that Prime Minister Rutte’s minority government party collapsed a month ago after it lost the support of the populist Freedom Party in debates over the country’s proposed package of financial austerity measures. After the next election cycle in September, what course a new government might take on the cannabis issue is unknown. For the time being however, it looks like the cannabis tourism trade will be limited to the city limits of Amsterdam.



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