April 27, 2012
Dutch Plan to Restrict Marijuana Passes Hurdle
By DAVID JOLLY
PARIS — The Dutch government’s plan to prohibit the purchase of marijuana by nonresidents cleared an important hurdle on Friday, when a court in The Hague dismissed a lawsuit brought by shop owners challenging the plan on the grounds that it was discriminatory.
The court agreed with the government that the prohibition was justified because of crime associated with people who travel to the Netherlands to buy marijuana and hashish, a resin derived from the cannabis plant. Although illegal in the Netherlands, soft drugs are tolerated. Licensed shops, called coffee shops, have been allowed to sell them since 1997, and Dutch citizens may grow up to five marijuana plants for personal use without fear of prosecution.
The center-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, which took office in 2010, is seeking to tighten controls on the shops with what is known as a “weed pass” system, under which each shop would be limited to 2,000 customers and required to maintain a register of clients; the sale of drugs to nonresidents would be illegal.
Friday’s ruling cleared the way for the system to go into effect on Tuesday in the provinces bordering Germany and Belgium in the south, the areas most widely identified with drug-tourism crime. The rest of the country is to follow suit next Jan. 1.
Even the Dutch people who support the shops acknowledge the problems created by drug tourists in the south. Buyers drive in by the hundreds, clogging streets and seeking large quantities of drugs to take home. That has led to a return of street sales, though a major reason for the toleration policy was to squelch them.
“It’s of course disappointing, and of course we’ll appeal,” said Michael Veling, a spokesman for the Cannabis Retailers Association, which represents most coffee shop owners. Appeals cannot be filed before enforcement begins, but Mr. Veling said the shop owners would refuse to obey the new system.
“From May 1 my colleagues in the south will disobey, and we expect to be arrested,” said Mr. Veling, who is also the owner of the Amsterdam coffee shop 420 Cafe. Saying the restrictions would be very hard to enforce in any case, Mr. Veling added: “We’ll just reinvent the coffee shops as we have in the past. Before the current system, we operated in stealth.”
Eric Daalder, a lawyer arguing the case for the government, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mayor Eberhard van der Laan of Amsterdam also opposes the change and has sought to find alternative solutions. Little crime is associated with marijuana outside the southern provinces, and officials in many areas fear the return of black market street dealings if the coffee shops are closed.
But the government insists it will move forward with its plan. “Amsterdam will also have to enforce this policy,” Job van de Sande, a spokesman for the Ministry of Security and Justice, told The Associated Press on Friday.
The possibility remains, however, that the government will drop the weed pass plan on its own. Mr. Rutte’s government collapsed this week in a dispute over austerity measures, though he will remain in a caretaker role until new elections on Sept. 12. To win backing for his budget, he has had to form a coalition with two small parties that oppose the system.
Mr. Veling of the Cannabis Retailers Association said he was optimistic that with the inclusion in the government of the two parties — D66 and the Greens — the weed pass system would ultimately be dropped.
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