Amsterdam might no longer be the place to be if you want to smoke some weed in public. The city that we have known as the place where things like prostitution and smoking weed were possible without any legal problems is changing.
The sale of cannabis has never been entirely legal, but there has been a longstanding policy of tolerance allowing licensed coffeeshops to sell a restricted quantity of cannabis to the public while keeping minors and hard drugs out of the establishments. The shops are not allowed to have more than 500 grams in the building and where the cannabis that is being sold is supposed to come from has always been a hypocritical mystery, as the Dutch are allowed to cultivate only up to five marijuana plants each for their personal use.
There has been much criticism of the so called “backdoor policy” and some cities have suggested that the government could regulate the growing of cannabis to get this part of the business out of the criminal sector. But the government so far has not wanted to change anything in their policy, until now.
The government has decided to ban tourists from the so called “coffeeshops”, places where you could previously buy your beloved herb. The new rule will be a nationwide rule and will be applied from May 1, 2012 in the southern provinces of The Netherlands and the rest of the country will follow on January 1, 2013.
The South of the Netherlands shares borders with both Germany and Belgium and tourists from those countries have been flooding to the major cities in these parts of the country on a daily basis looking for their smoke.
The new rules states that only residents of the Netherlands can register for the so called “weed pass” in order to be able to buy weed in the local coffeeshop. Every coffeeshop is allowed to give out 2000 registrations, but as almost nobody had registered for such a pass yet in the city of Maastricht, a city that is close to both Germany and Belgium. Only one café, called ‘Easy Going’, opened its doors and immediately refused the first foreign visitors that wanted to enter the establishment.
The foreigners that had been refused decided to go to the local police station to officially report a case of discrimination. After these first few visitors had been refused the owner of the establishment decided to open his doors to whomever without even checking any ID’s.
The local authorities gave the owner an official warning but when he repeated the same thing the next day, they ordered him to close his establishment for a month. Of course his actions were a protest against the new rule and he will fight the case in court by getting a judge to prove that the new laws are discriminating against foreigners and this is not the way to go for the country.
“Let them close my café down, than at least I can take this case to court”
said Marc Josemans, the owner of the café.
“Realism should win from these strange current hypocrite political decisions.”
Josemans was very pleased with the support he received from local society as he is the first coffeeshop owner in the Netherlands to receive an official warning. Later in the week a café owner in the city of Tilburg also received an official warning for having foreign customers in his establishment.
On 20th of April, the international day for the celebration of cannabis, in various cities in the Netherlands people used this day to protest against the new law and also on the Tuesday about 200 smokers paraded through the city of Maastricht to show their anger and their sympathy for the coffeeshop owners.
Many people in the Netherlands believe that when coffeeshops are no longer as accessible for foreigners (also for Dutch residents that do not like to be registered as smokers) street dealing will take over. Although the government thinks that this will not be the case and if it is, that they will manage to deal with it, street dealers have already been spotted in the cities in the South on the first day the new law went in effect.
At this moment tourists can still buy their beloved White Widow or OG Kush in one of the many coffee shops in Amsterdam, but of course everybody is very concerned that this new law will come into effect in their city as well, starting from the 1st of January 2013.
While Maastricht has a population of about 121,050 people, Amsterdam holds about 783,364 inhabitants and has about 140 coffeeshops in the city centre alone and is receiving more than 4.63 million international visitors annually. When city press officer, Tahira Liman, was asked what would happen if also in Amsterdam this new law would go in effect she answered that the city fears that a big portion of the people that normally would visit a coffeeshop to buy their cannabis, will try to get it through street dealers.
Amsterdam has held a survey amongst about 1200 coffeeshop customers before June last year and it turned out that 30% of the visitors would register for a weed pass, 25% would start growing their own cannabis and more than 25% would start buying from local illegal dealers. It is clear that many local smokers are just not willing to register themselves as smokers of cannabis and refuse to cooperate with the new rules.
In the mean time the Dutch government has fallen apart and new elections will be held in September. Is this going to make a difference or might it be that the new law will not go through for the rest of the country? Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten thinks it will not make a difference.
“The next Cabinet can always roll back everything, but they will continue prudent policies,”
“I think this is smart policy, so I am not worried about that.”
Belgium smokers have reacted in their own fun way to the new laws by setting up a facebook page that calls for a “beer pass”, which will ban Dutch citizens from buying Belgium beer.
Well it seems that also Snoop Dogg, who is a frequent visitor of the Amsterdam coffee shops, will have to take no for an answer – for now. Sorry Dogg.
Written in cooperation with Royal Queen Seeds.