A view of a neon sign of a cannabis coffee shop in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Massimo Catarinella)

Dutch drug policy, pragmatic as ever

04/01/2013

in Global Policy News,Policy

A new rule making it illegal to sell cannabis to tourists has come into effect in Holland, with only Dutch citizens or residents now permitted to use the 650 or so coffee shops (the name given to cafes where small amounts of cannabis can be bought) throughout the country.

Amsterdam is expected to put off the implementation of this new law for as long as it can, and the Mayor has announced that foreign visitors will still be allowed to purchase the drug in the city’s coffee shops. Other towns are likely to follow suit, with a recent survey finding that 27 councils (out of 56 responses, 100 total) had no plan to actively ensure tourists are kept out of the cafes[1].

Shirley Haasnoot, a Dutch national, has commented on the issue on the Guardian website, providing a history of Holland’s controversial policy-making with regard to drugs.

The rule follows a 2012 experiment in a long, controversial history of policy-making in regard to drugs: the wietpas (“weed pass”), which was introduced in the spring of 2012 in the southern provinces bordering Belgium and Germany. In effect, the wietpas was a personal membership card for a coffee shop. Coffee shops had to act as exclusive clubs that only Dutch citizens and residents could join. Shop owners were told to keep lists of their clients and were forbidden to sell their stock to non-members. The registration of personal details turned out to be very unpopular, illegal street trade boomed, and the pass was abolished after only six months.

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As this example illustrates, restrictions placed on access to drugs can unintentionally push control of their distribution into undesirable hands. Not only does this result in profit for criminals, but it also puts the users at increased risk by forcing them to use an unregulated and potentially dangerous product, as well as deal with illicit traders (putting them at increased risk of blackmail or violence).

[1]Many towns have no plans to ban tourists from cannabis cafes – Dutch News 01/01/13

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