Utrecht city council is introducing a new bylaw on August 1 which will make it a criminal offence to use hard drugs such as crack cocaine in public.
The proposal, drawn up by mayor Sharon Dijksma, will run for at least 18 months and aims to tackle the growing nuisance caused by a growing group of hard drug users. Similar bans operate in many other cities but until now Utrecht had opted to offer care for addicts rather than ban them from taking drugs.
The problems are now so intense that Dijksma has opted for a ban which, she says, will be coupled with better care services. In particular, the number of trouble makers identified by the police has grown from 56 last year to 122 by May.
“Small business owners and their staff, local residents and student associations are all dealing with problems on a daily basis – used needles in parks, intimidation and threats, theft and street fights,” the mayor said in a letter to councillors earlier this year.
Many of the group, officials say, are from Eastern Europe or are failed asylum seekers and have been attracted to the city by the tougher rules elsewhere.
“Drug addicts have it too good here,” one café owner in the city centre told the Volkskrant. “There has been a ban on drinking alcohol in public spaces for years, but you can openly smoke hard drugs? It’s madness.”
The city is also setting up a special team of social workers to encourage the addicts to use a special users space to take their drugs out of the public eye. The centre, close to the main railway station, will also offer free meals and medical care.