A policy in the Netherlands that would ban foreign tourists from buying marijuana went into effect in parts of the country May 1st. Most of the law enforcement and media focus has been on the town of Maastricht, a border town with Belgium, a country that has strict policies against marijuana. Some activists in the border town held a march in protest of the new policy and about 200 people marched through the streets and chanted. Marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands, a popular misconception, it is technically illegal, but has been sold openly for decades in cafes around the country known as coffee shops, that operate under the country’s famed tolerance of soft drug policies, to end street dealing, and lower crime.
But as of today, only citizens of the Netherlands who hold a “weed pass”, a card that you can get from your local government office will be allowed to patronize a Dutch coffee shop. You must be a Dutch resident to get a weed pass, so the policy effectively bans tourists from entering and purchasing marijuana from the coffee shops. Who is getting the weed pass? It is reported that Dutch cannabis consumers aren’t getting the passes, assuming the law won’t be enforced. Some are worried the information required to obtain a weed pass will somehow leak from a government database. This may cause them difficulties with health insurance or getting a mortgage.
Mayors of some of the border towns have joined in the protests of the weed pass policy. Many tourists come into their towns only to be able to purchase and consume marijuana while they are there. Of course, the locals also understand that the cannabis tourists also pay for hotels, food, and other entertainment when they are in town. The Dutch Government, as well as the Belgian government says that more than a million foreign tourists annually enter the city of Maastricht alone, this causes daily traffic headaches. The tourists come just so they can purchase as much cannabis as they can, going from shop to shop, then drive back home to redistribute it.
The coffee shops in Maastricht and other key border towns, Tilburg, Roermond, and Eindhoven, kept their doors closed on Tuesday, a move that the Mayor called, “rude” saying that they were disrupting city society by remaining closed. There was one exception, a shop called “Easy Going” that stayed open long enough to garner a legal conflict today. Owner Marc Josemans, who also is the Chairman of The National Coffee Shop Owners Association, turned away of group of foreigners who were there protesting the new rules. That group immediately went to the police station and filed discrimination complaints. Then Josemans started selling cannabis to anyone who came in, not asking to see a weed pass. The police who were on hand to monitor the protests let that continue for about an hour and a half, then issued a warning to the shop that if they violated the new rule by not checking for passes, they would be forcibly closed for a month. He continued to sell cannabis to anyone who came in, but closed early and says he will be back tomorrow and fully expects them to follow through with their threat of closing his shop. Then he plans on opening a suit in European Court of Justice, saying that discrimination is never the answer to a societal problem.
Many of the coffee shops say they will take a vacation and just wait for this to pass, a move they now expect since the Dutch Conservative National Government collapsed last week under pressure from a growing budget deficit and an internal argument over budget priorities. Prime Minister Marck Rutte and his entire cabinet have resigned and won’t be seeking re-election in September. Some think that the struggling administration will not have the resources to continue to monitor the shops, and that things will roll back to where they were before the current conservative government took power, about eight years ago.
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