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.
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.
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