Source: New York Times
November 1, 2012
By DAVID JOLLY
PARIS – Amsterdam’s 220 coffee shops, where marijuana and hashish are
openly sold and consumed, will remain open next year in spite of a new
Dutch law meant to reduce drug tourism, the city’s mayor said in an
interview published Thursday.
The mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant
that he had made the decision after considering the unintended consequences
that would arise from a ban, including a revival of black market trade. He
also noted that the current system allows for the government to monitor the
quality of soft drugs and to limit access to the coffee shops to those 18
years old and over, something that would be impossible if the trade were
again to become clandestine.
“The 1.5 million tourists will not say, ‘then no more marijuana,'” Mr. van
der Laan told De Volkskrant, according to a transcript of the interview
provided by his office. “They will swarm all over the city looking for
drugs. This would lead to more robberies, quarrels about fake drugs, and no
control of the quality of drugs on the market. Everything we have worked
toward would be lost to misery.”
The Dutch have long tolerated the coffee shops, although the sale of
marijuana remains technically illegal. But tolerance has come under fire,
partly from concern about the criminality that surrounds the supply, which
originates in places like Afghanistan, Lebanon and Morocco.
But it was a growing traffic nuisance in southern municipalities like
Maastricht, where Belgians and Germans drove to buy drugs, that proved the
tipping point. The Dutch government announced two years ago that sales to
nonresidents would be prohibited nationwide on Jan. 1, 2013. Only Dutch
residents who registered with a coffee shop would be legally allowed to go
to the coffee shops, which were to be turned into members-only clubs.
The first phase of the ban, affecting only the south, took effect on May 1.
The results have been mixed, with Maastricht reporting an increase in the
number of street dealers, but less car traffic. A plan to require buyers to
have a “weed pass” to buy soft drugs was dropped as the number of drug
tourists fell sharply.
The law has always been controversial in major Dutch cities outside of the
south, where officials have warned that they would lose control of the
situation if the trade were driven underground.
Since then, a newly elected coalition government has decided that local
officials will be allowed to make their own decisions on whether or how to
enforce the law.
Mayor van der Laan’s office said he had assured the government “that
criminality and related problems around coffee shops will be strongly
addressed and that marijuana use among young people will be further
In the newspaper interview, Mr. van der Laan denied that he was acting as
“an errand boy for coffee shop owners,” and promised that he would strictly
enforce rules regarding sale to minors and the strength of the soft drugs
It is not, he added, a question of the potential loss of tourism revenue
from the international visitors to the city’s coffee shops. “Flat economic
motives” plays absolutely no role, he said, adding: “The 1.5 million
tourists are not visiting only the coffee shops.”