Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dutch 'cannabis card' rollout in disarray

Maastricht resident Jochem lights up a joint in the "Easy Going" coffeeshop in this April 27, 2012, file photo.

Maastricht resident Jochem lights up a joint in the "Easy Going" coffeeshop 

in this April 27, 2012, file photo.

Photograph by: Mischa Rapmund , Reuters

Article - By Nicolas Delaunay, Agence France-Presse

THE HAGUE—A week after a contentious rollout of a new Dutch law to stub out cannabis sales to foreigners, enforcement is in disarray as some police are untrained and several coffee shops have closed in protest.
Drug tourists are simply dodging the "cannabis card" law by heading elsewhere in the country for their fix, since the rule has entered into force in just three southern Dutch provinces so far.

"It takes time for everything to be put into place," Justice and Safety Ministry spokeswoman Charlotte Menten admitted.

The new law came into effect on May 1 and effectively transforms coffee shops into private clubs as it requires around 80 cannabis cafes in the south to sell only to signed-up members who live in the country.

Its coverage widens nationwide to 590 other coffee shops in 2013, and is aimed at curbing drug tourism linked disturbances such as late-night rabble rousing, traffic jams and illegal drug pushing.

Each shop is allowed to have just 2,000 members, who must be over 18 years old and permanent residents of the country.

But in the tourist-friendly city of Maastricht, now the focal point of a Dutch resistance against the new cannabis law, 14 coffee shops have shut their doors in protest, calling it "discriminatory" and bad for business.

Leading the Maastricht protest, Easy Going coffee shop was open on May 1 and 2 but promptly slapped with a note of summary closure by the municipality for selling dope to Belgians and Germans.

Now "we’re going to court," said Marc Josemans, Easy Going’s owner who also chairs Maastricht’s association of coffee shops. "We were waiting for only one thing: the municipality to close us down."

Willem Vugs, who chairs the southern university city of Tilburg’s association of coffee shop
s complained that "the government wants to implement a nationwide solution to address a local problem in Maastricht."

He said that there is "little or no nuisance from coffee shops" in his city and that business was suffering due to the new law.

But enforcement of the new rule was also patchy, with police in Eindhoven still undergoing training on cannabis checks.

In other areas like Den Bosch, Oss and Uden, police said "cannabis controls are not a priority."

The drug tourists are meanwhile simply going where the new rules do not yet apply, such as Nijmegen, a city about 140 kilometres (87 miles) from Maastricht.

"In recent days, we are spotting cars with Belgian plates in the city centre, who are clearly there for the coffee shops," said a Nijmegen police spokeswoman Florian Vingerhoeds.

"Before, we never saw Belgian plates."

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