The cabinet is pressing ahead with plans to turn all cafes selling small amounts of cannabis into members’ only clubs, accessible only to people officially living in the Netherlands.
Ministers say turning the so-called coffee shops into private clubs will reduce drugs-related tourism and public nuisance.
Soft drug users will be able to get a membership card if they are aged 18 and over, are Dutch or can prove they live legally in the Netherlands. Café’s will have a maximum amount of members, put at between 1,000 and 1,500 in some media reports.
Coffee shops must also be at least a 350 metre walk from secondary schools.
Ministers say they expect the closure of coffee shops to tourists will lead to a reduction in drugs-related tourism. Nevertheless, ‘adequate measures’ will be taken by police and officials to make sure the move does not lead to an increase in street dealing.
Amsterdam city council continues to oppose the introduction of the membership card. ’We are concerned about the problems that will arise from large-scale street dealing,’ said a spokesman for Eberhard van der Laan.
‘There are also health concerns, because with street dealing we cannot monitor the quality of the soft drugs or the age of the buyers,’ he said.
The government is also planning to increase efforts to drive organised crime out of the production and trade of marijuana and to seize the assets of convicted drugs criminals.
The illegal growing industry is thought to be worth some €2bn a year. According to the Telegraaf, some 40,000 people are involved in marijuana cultivation and some 5,000 plantations are busted every year.
The crack-down on coffee shops follows the recommendations of a government commission in 2009 which said hashish and marijuana contain far more active ingredients than they did when the policy of turning a blind eye to their use was introduced in the 1970s.
At the same time, the bigger the coffee shops get, the more likely they are to be in the hands of organised crime. To that end, the commission recommended cafes become smaller and should only sell to locals.
Maastricht has already closed its coffee shops to tourists because of the nuisance while the border towns of Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom have got rid of coffee shops altogether.
The concept of coffee shops was introduced in the 1970s to separate hard and soft drugs. The country’s 500 or so coffee shops are permitted to stock up to 500 grams of soft drugs while users can have up to five grammes for personal use.
Last July, a senior European legal official said the Netherlands was within its rights to ban tourists from coffee shops.
Advocate general Yves Bot said he considers the move necessary to protect public order and reduce the nuisance caused by drugs tourism. In addition, the ban would contribute to European efforts to combat the illegal drugs trade, Bot said.
The Netherlands highest court, the Council of State, has asked the European court to determine if the Maastricht ban conflicts with EU laws.
The Dutch court is currently hearing an appeal by a local cafe owner who was forced to close in 2006 after two non-Dutch nationals were found on his premises.
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