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Protests, police and job losses as new cannabis rules take effect

Tuesday 01 May 2012

wietpas%20protest%20march Opponents of the so-called wietpas take to the streets in Maastricht. Photo: WFA

All Maastricht’s 14 cannabis cafes closed their doors on Tuesday in protest at new rules banning them from selling marijuana and hashish to tourists, Nos television reported.

From May 1, all so-called coffee shops in the south of the country should have become private members’ clubs and customers must prove they live in the locality to be able to buy soft drugs. The measure will go nationwide on January 1, 2013.

In total, some 80 coffee shops in Limburg, Zeeland and Brabant are affected by Tuesday’s deadline. The government hopes the new rules will reduce drugs tourism and criminality but opponents fear there will be an increase in street dealing.

Mayor angry

Maastricht mayor Onno Hoes is furious at the coffee shop owners’ action, Nos television reported. ‘I did not think the owners would be so cheeky,’ he said. ‘By doing this, they are hurting the local population.’

One coffee shop in the southern city named Easy Going did open for a time but was given a written warning by officials because it did not have a membership list available.

Owners and a few hundred sympathisers held a demonstration in front of the town hall in Maastricht on Tuesday afternoon.


According to local broadcaster LI, many of the coffee shops have closed their doors because they have no customers and no-one has registered as a member. Nearly 390 people have also lost their jobs, L1 reported.

In Tilburg, the owner of coffee shop Toermalijn was also given a police warning for failing to meet the new rules. ‘One infringement is enough for us to take a test case to court,’ owner Willem Vugs told news agency Novum.

In Venlo, two of the city’s five coffee shops have closed down for good. One other, called Nobody's Place, reports just six people have signed up for membership. Police in the Limburg town have been handing out flyers to German tourists alerting them to the new situation, L1 said.


According to some reports, several foreigners who were refused service have made formal complaints to the police about discrimination.

The European Court of Justice ruled last year restricting sales to Netherlands' residents only is 'justified by the objective of combating drug tourism' and reducing public nuisance. The aim of the restriction is to maintain public order and protect public health, the court said.

At the moment, the Dutch authorities turn a blind eye to the sale of small quantities of hashish and marijuana in licenced cafes.

Coffee shops have become a popular tourist attraction, particularly in Amsterdam and border towns such as Maastricht. Some 70% of Maastricht coffee shop customers are from abroad.

© DutchNews.nl

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Readers' comments (40)

Love the "discrimination" label. Can I also call out discrimination because I'm not allowed to participate in previously tolerated and now illegal activities? Like for example public executions.

People of the Netherlands, stick to your guns and stamp out the coffee shops. Your country has much to offer the tourist that this boring activity. And those tourists who came here for drugs simply won't anymore. The middle class joe's who bought and consumed safely in the confines of a coffee shop will not buy off the street - they're not the type to risk a drug related police record. I applaud what is happening.

By Greg | May 1, 2012 4:04 PM

So there is a problem with folks who tend to enjoy a touch of paranoia - being honest in registering themselves with a coffee shop that the authorities will undoubtably have access to. Mmmm.... who would have thought???

By Ana | May 1, 2012 4:11 PM

The protest was rightly executed and shows that the guv is undeniably NOT in service for the people, but against the people..

Willfully it continues to 'blatantly' destroy not only it's own economy, but also it's own self destruction due to it's transparent secrecy, false propaganda, & inept approach to govern, causing unnecessary problems & large financial losses.

Somebody somewhere high up is selfishly taking an extra paycheck & possibly in collaboration with the EU, taking more of our rights and freedoms away, but why?

We know the truth about cannabis, so why bother to lie???

By The visitor | May 1, 2012 5:04 PM

I cannot believe that the Dutch authorities are that stupid. No one will want to be on that official "okay to smoke" list. Do they require it to drink? Buy an X-rated movie? Good luck with that!

Do they really want to forgo all that tourism from the under 50 crowd? They have all that disposable income that they want to spend in NL just for the privilege of being able to say, "I got high legally in NL." DO they really think that all that missing money will come back to them just to see the flowers? Not hardly.

It's the height of stupidity.

By The Cat Lady | May 1, 2012 5:10 PM

Albeit said & done that coffee shops along the NL border cause nuisance to locals due to visits from noisy foreigners, did the locals have any say in this matter?

An objective to discriminate & thus promote higher sales of alcohol?

Let's not forget that the days of dealing on the streets is unlikely & more likely to be accomplished through sms,in bars & by courier..

The weed pass won't work, just hinder & annoy, causing untaxed underground sales - for the right to purchase a natural plant that nobody has yet died from, right?

Low flying helicopters with infra red video surveillance & satellite imagery, why all the secrecy? What are they hiding? :P

By The visitor | May 1, 2012 5:38 PM

The mayor is "furious" at the action of the coffee shop owners? He's furious that they are complying with this retrograde law, and expects them to open for business with zero or vanishingly few members? It would appear his ferocity is misdirected. What does he expect the coffee shop owners to do - break the law and get fined?

By glenn_uk | May 1, 2012 6:10 PM

the drugs will still be sold, just by street dealers and the Dutch government will miss out on all of that tax money. ( as well as crime will increase, Hard drugs will be more redily available etc.. ) this will all change back to the way it should be shortly. Sorry Netherlands.. but once you let tolerance out of the bag, there is no returning back to prohibition. why do you think the US is so hesitant?

By jimi62471 | May 1, 2012 8:07 PM

Being from the U.S. which has no tolerance at all when it comes to illegal substances. Who gave the Gov. the right to tell me what I can or cannot put in my body. Just like booze, if I harm someone, I have to take the responsibility for my actions.

By AZBill | May 1, 2012 8:15 PM

Short term pain for long term gain. I applaud this lawmaking.Tourists who would otherwise avoid the Netherlands due to the perceived drug culture will now have a rethink.

By Mandy | May 1, 2012 8:32 PM

I can see it now... locals dashing in and out of the coffee shops buying and selling for their non-local clients? I can see the new tax law already.... local courier tax.

By Samantha | May 1, 2012 8:36 PM

The loss of tourism and VAT brought by those tourists will make a collapse of the economy, less hotel nights,less restaurants,less museums,less clubs, less food, less transports and of course less attractive for all the smoky artistic talented geeky people who came here first to enjoye the freedom of NL etc...continue this way, in 2 years the country will face huge problems !

By jake | May 1, 2012 8:50 PM

From the perspective of the affected foreigners (French, Belgian, German), I think their right of free choice is violated by their own authorities, because they push for the pass system outside their countries. This looks kind of unconstitutional to me.

By George | May 1, 2012 9:15 PM

@The Cat Lady (et al): Purrr ... you make the logical argument very well ... But I wonder if the leadership is extracting revenues from the Dutch Population from items like the new V.A.T. and many other new taxes/austerity measures as well as other sources that the average Henk & Ingrid will not see, in order to make up for any shortfall that they might forecast from loss of Coffeeshop Tourism revenue. In essence the thinking behind the Weitpas is no different than that of the OV-Chipkaart and other monitoring applications that create a very complex & expensive information infrastructure to top all others ... Any idea why they are taking this direction ?

By Chek-IN/Chek-OUT | May 1, 2012 9:23 PM

This will simply not work. Today I bought my supply in a cafe, from a waitress who sold it 'under the table'. How long do they think it will take the criminals to open new branches in the Limburg area? The Netherlands did not have these problems thus far, and I really don't understand who in their right mind would like to create organised crime in this beautiful country.

By Pieter | May 1, 2012 10:34 PM

The mayor has the nerve to be "angry"?? Exactly how is this "harming" the locals? Oh, it isn't. It's just going to make them mad at...oh, I would guess politicians...like the mayor! That mayor is worried that his job is in danger. Like the mayor cares about the local people were coffee shops are concerned. Gimme a break.

By Seti Mereneptah | May 1, 2012 10:40 PM

How come the Court can say these new laws are to protect public health? I thought Courts had to speak to the evidence and there is no evidence that laws like this do any such thing. Rather it is going to drive youngsters to drugs like heroin so they do not have to get Registered with the government. I admire the explicit pragmatism of Dutch citizens refusing to get Registered. Keep the Faith!

By Max Harmreduction | May 2, 2012 1:31 AM

The most ironic part of the whole prohibition is that it is being promoted by so called ''christians'' Do they think that God made a mistake by creating cannabis the most useful plant!?

By ldruide | May 2, 2012 5:35 AM

Greg: thanks for your post. however the idea that 'middle class joe's who bought and consumed safely in the confines of a coffee shop will not buy off the street' is totally wrong. I'm an educated older professional, who smokes in the weekends. I will never ever 'register' as a cannabis user here in NL. That would be the stupidest thing I could possibly do of course! Soon these records will be hacked and available to everyone, including employers, etc. I will be buying from the street dealers, who will also sell hard drugs of course. I am 100% against hard drugs, so this is not a good thing in my opinion. This is not well thought through at all.

By Bill | May 2, 2012 7:01 AM

I do not drink alcohol, nor do I care for drunk or alcohol intoxicated people. However, I do not want all the bars shut down - even though it appears that alcohol causes a lot of problems, many of which are related to violent behavior. Why all the stink about cannabis? Does not make common sense to me folks, sorry. Solve REAL problems please, there are more than enough to keep our government busy I think.

By Bill | May 2, 2012 7:24 AM

With the fall of the coalition this was supposed to be postponed, I smell something fishy here and if the coffeshops are closed people will buy from the street. The posters who say otherwise are being naive.

By The Man | May 2, 2012 9:36 AM

This is very sad . I don;t want to go back and start buying from street dealers . this is big BS .

By Dimitri | May 2, 2012 9:46 AM

So the government imposes us big efforts (not to say huge) to resorb the national public debt, but at the same time, they're throwing money out of the window,.... If they want to close coffee shops, why not, it's their decision, but the least of things would be to wait perhaps for some more accurate time, not when so many of us are struggling with the money, ...@ Greg, what are you talking about exactly ? "Much to offer"You really think tourism will stay the same??? We are going to lose a lot over this absurdity...

By JulesC | May 2, 2012 10:42 AM

I really don't get the "The European Court of Justice ruled last year restricting sales to Netherlands' residents only is 'justified by the objective of combating drug tourism' and reducing public nuisance. The aim of the restriction is to maintain public order and protect public health, the court said." IF that is REALLY the concern then ban the sale of alcohol to foreigners!! The DRUNKS are the ones who cause public nuisance and often endanger themselves and the public!! The bar owners obviously have more control over the government than the coffee shop owners.

By steve | May 2, 2012 11:25 AM

This rollout was a test. It looks like the test failed.

By Chris V | May 2, 2012 11:35 AM

I agree, Glenn. His ferocity is clearly misdirected. He should be furious at the stupid law. Ugh.

By Stupid | May 2, 2012 11:53 AM

It keeps me impressing how people who don't even live in Netherlands feel they have a "right" to come here and benefit from advanced laws that were supposed to care ONLY for the local youths, keeping them from street dealers.

The intent of Netherlands "soft" policy on drugs was never to become a magnet for junkies from all over the World.

If someone living in Germany, US or Australia is "resenting" not being able to travel here to smoke weed, change the laws in YOUR own country.

By Andre L. | May 2, 2012 1:30 PM

The War Against Pot is a War Against Freedom of Thought.

Think for yourself, think freely, have freedom of choice instead of prohibition.

How would you feel if the Germans prohibited Dutch from enjoying Oktoberfest?

How would you feel if the Belgians prohibited Dutch from enjoying lambic 'wiet bieren' beers?

How would you feel if the Swiss prohibited Dutch from enjoying Swiss chocolates?

How would you feel if the Italians prohibited Dutch from enjoying espresso highly caffeinated coffees?

How would you feel if the French prohibited Dutch from enjoying French champagne?

How would you feel if Americans prohibited Dutch from enjoying Budweiser and California Napa valley wines?

By The One | May 2, 2012 7:13 PM

"reduce public nuisance". Anybody can make nuisance and drive weed sales underground. A "red herring" is the issue of discrim,Gov.D.B.,taxes,health debate,and tourism dollars. The real issue is growing a criminal 80 billion EUR per year in weed sales for Western EU. With criminal market,use will double in NL,explode in Germnany and Belgium. The steady funds will now support serious and big periodic activities Europe can not handle. A customer that goes underground is "had", and now is available for much more. The criminal suppliers are the sales staff and the recruitment staff for big things. Good luck to Europe, you will not be able to handle this. Keep the Coffee Shops open.

By NLtourist | May 2, 2012 9:33 PM

We can't. Our countries are much more regressive and stupidly governed than yours.

Until now.

By dogontribe | May 2, 2012 11:48 PM

I think we are going to see a lot of resistance to this measure from businesses that benefited from all the tourists that came here at least partially for the relaxed cannabis rules. Add to the equation that it recently became public news that NL hotels are THE most expensive in the EU zone, and all the main museums being closed and also the high cost of meals, etc. - and you have a recipe for economic disaster. More financial pain.
But of course: 'that will never happen here' - I nearly forgot! silly me.

By Bill | May 3, 2012 6:52 AM

I ws born in the Netherlands but live in New Zealand where cannabis is illegal but fairly easy to obtain. Almost everyone knows someone who can source you some weed :-)
I'm disappointed that after this law takes effect nation-wide, I will not be able to smoke up in an Amsterdam coffee shop. This despite my being a Netherlands citizen (but not a resident). Would the authorities prefer me to get extremely drunk and cause trouble on the streets?
I hope there are mass protests and the government changed the law back to how it was when I was last in NL 12 years ago.

By Remco | May 3, 2012 8:46 AM

Andre L. Smoking marijuana does not make you a junkie. Your careless use of the term weakens your viewpoint.

By Andrejs | May 3, 2012 8:46 AM

I insist on my early point: the initial purpose of the lax laws on marijuana was not to create a tourist market for junkies from abroad, but to shield Dutch people, particularly its youth, from contacts with street dealers when procuring soft drugs.

That Belgium, Germany and other countries don't think the same way doesn't follow Netherlands should have some sort of moral obligation to cater for the addiction of non-residents.

I even concede the "weed pass" might be not the best way to curb drug tourism while keeping that "harm reduction" measure in place, but the principle - not letting a harm reduction policy become a tourist magnet for non-residents - is sound.

By Andre L. | May 3, 2012 11:43 AM

It seems like the Dutch government lets itself get bullied into this weird legislature by their neighbouring countries like Germany and Belgium. Since they are the ones complaining about our liberal approach to soft*drugs*. But why would these countries do that? Would they rather have their citizens buy and distribute the substances in their own country? Where's the gain in that? In the end, it seems like the Dutch people are being punished for what seems to be a non-problem. There aren't really that many problems with foreigners coming here making trouble when they're high. More like the opposite. Just put a couple of coffeeshops (big ones) near the border and cash in all that VAT.

By WillyWonkaaaargh | May 3, 2012 3:48 PM

Andre: I find your comments to be completely out of line in many respects. First, you continue to confuse junkies with recreational weed smokers. Secondly you mention catering for 'the addiction of non-residents' Addiction? huh?
Why do you insist on insulting many people here with these type of comments, repeatedly? What do you get out of that? You have already been addressed by another commenter. I do not understand.

By Bill | May 3, 2012 4:11 PM

I like how Andrejs says this: "Andre L. Smoking marijuana does not make you a junkie. Your careless use of the term weakens your viewpoint." And then the very next post has Andre L. calling weed smokers "junkies" again.

I have a giant education in physics and atmospheric science and smoke weed every day. Does that make me a junkie?

And btw, I just scored some SWEET bud through a friend, much better than anything I've ever gotten in a coffeeshop here. So either way, I win :P

By Stupid | May 3, 2012 6:18 PM

Its very interesting to see how much hipocrisy we can find among suposedly an open culture.
One of the principles of freedom is that you are responsable for yourself.what you do is your business and what other people do is their business.Learn to deal with that- if you are one of those who likes to deprive other peoples freedom!
If you agree with laws that deprive your own rights and liberties independently off being a native or not than you also do not belong in this country!
Understand that governments and laws are made to control and constrict and serve interests not for the sake off people!

By P D M | May 4, 2012 3:04 PM

The sooner the close minded understand that they also are being constricted ( whithout even noticing ) the sooner they will start releasing themselves from government tyrany!
Fight for your freedom and help the future generations to learn the meaning of it!
If you comply it will not take long until we get back to totalitary state!
And havent we seen that before in nazi germany or Ussr!
Open your eyes or you will be responsable for the enprisioning of the libertie of future generations and your own!
Learn that the freedom resides in the choice - not in constant constrictian n of population - or in retrieving their rights
Its time to put an end to

By P d m | May 4, 2012 3:12 PM

I travel to Amsterdam every year and spend close to 9000 usd in a week. I guess the Dutch dont want my dollars anymore. Good thing the Spanish do :)

By Dan | May 18, 2012 3:38 AM

how very, very stupid. to think the NL was
respected for an adult attitude to a non crime.

By thomas vesely | May 23, 2012 2:31 AM

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