The Netherlands has employed a policy of tolerance (Gedoogbeleid) towards the sale and consumption of Cannabis for over thirty years. Now, it seems, that’s all about to end. Or is it?
Antagonism towards so-called drug tourism, whereby nationals of neighbouring countrie’s come into The Netherlands purely for the sake of buying cannabis, has been the driving force for new, stricter laws towards the sale of cannabis. These laws, to be enforced this year, will require patrons of coffee-shops to possess a coffee-shop membership pass. Such a pass will only be available for Dutch residents, effectively barring tourists from indulging in the happy plant.
Of course, the primary issue with this idea is one of discrimination. Article 1 of the Dutch constitution affirms equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination. It does allow for affirmative action which, in layman’s terms, means that if discriminatory policies will serve the greater well-being of the society, then they can be allowed into law.
Proponents of the new coffee-shop laws argue that tourists + coffee-shops = trouble. This is a ridiculously ignorant view. Personally, I would argue that anybody + alcohol =usually more trouble.
”…THE PRIMARY ISSUE WITH THIS IDEA IS ONE OF DISCRIMINATION..”
Ivo Opstelten, the Minister for Security and Justice, is the architect of the weed-pass concept of coffee-shop membership. In response to his assertion that foreigners cause trouble, Jan Brouwer, a professor of General Law Studies at the University of Groningen responded that ‘Yes, and don’t Dutch people cause trouble?’
In my role as a tour guide in Amsterdam, I’ve been asked about this by innumerable amounts of tourists. To each of them I’ve posed the question, how much trouble has ever been caused by somebody smoking a plant that has caused them to sit still and giggle for a couple of hours? Anyway, that’s the crux of the debate.
The effects of this change in policy direction have already occurred in some border towns in the south of the Netherlands. Notably a more conservative region of the Netherlands, the desired result of new rules is to stop the constant influx of drug tourists, most of which come from Germany and Belgium, with many also from nearby France.
As of May 1st this year, only coffee-shop members may purchase marijuana in towns such as Maastricht.
It does seem, however, that there is a general political trend towards implementing such policies across the whole state. The aim is for this policy to be in effect on a nation-wide basis, as of January 1st, 2013. Of course, the only city which really concerns us in this regard is the greatest city of them all, Amsterdam.
I’ve had many tourists lately either asking me whether they can still patronise coffee-shops, or blatantly telling me with certainty that they cannot. Given that this is an opinions page, I’m going to tell you what I tell them.I will be left baffled, flabbergasted, and a whole other range of adjectives, should it ever occur that Amsterdam’s tourists will be unable to purchase marijuana.
First of all, there are a few little things about Amsterdam that make it so different from any other city in the Netherlands. I could go on for an age about the importance of Amsterdam within the history of modern politics, economics, business, art and trade. I could tell you how today’s global concepts of free-trade and libertarianism where nurtured in this city hundreds of years before any other. Because of these things; because of the beauty of the canals, the old buildings, the churches, the towers, the bridges and the tulips, this city is a magnet for tourism. However, the fact remains that 40% of Amsterdam’s tourists come here purely because of the soft-drugs policy and existence of coffee-shops. That’s right: 40%
A shrewd business sense seems to be a hereditary Dutch trait. However, thankfully, so too does humility and modesty. The Dutch have, for years, suffered from what Simon Schama labeled the embarrasment of riches. They will happily make a whole lot of money, but they will never shove it in your face. The coffee-shop industry has made a lot of people a lot of money, but it has never been shoved in anyone’s face. In fact, technically, the purchase of cannabis is still illegal. That’s why they’re called coffee-shops and not cannabis cafés. It’s all about discretion.
Although coffee-shops are believed to make 100% profit from the sale of cannabis, the government does still make income from it in the form of exorbitant taxes on the sale of legal items such as drinks and chocolate bars. urthermore, the Dutch themselves are not big weed smokers. They do not even rank in the top 10 countries in Europe for cannabis consumption. If you take away the tourists from coffee-shops, consumption will definitely decrease, thereby losing the government much income in the form of taxes. It would be throwing away business.
”…THE DUTCH THEMSELVES ARE NOT BIG WEED SMOKERS…”
But of course, surely there are enough expats living in Amsterdam to patronise coffee-shops, keeping the industry afloat and business running as usual? Actually, a little known tendency about expats in Amsterdam is that many often don’t buy cannabis from coffee-shops. Coffeeshops are not the source of cannabis, but merely the vendor. If you can go to the source (grower or distributor) for cheaper prices, then that’s ultimately what you will do. Cannabis will re-enter the realm of the streets.
Furthermore, it is a pretty wide practice for young backpackers to search out cannabis and other drugs in any city they visit. Imagine if they know that cannabis is abundant in Amsterdam, and yet not accessible? Suddenly a gap in the market exists which will (because it always has been) be filled by criminals. As Labour MP Lea Bouwmeester pointed out ‘more repression will lead to more crime.
’Tourists won’t stop trying to purchase cannabis here, they will just have to use different, more illegal avenues to obtain it. Do you think the police, after over thirty years of a successful policy of tolerance, are happily going to enforce new and draconian laws against pot-smoking tourists?
If you look at trade as being either white (legitimate) or black (illegitimate), the cannabisindustry in Amsterdam is grey with lighter hues. These moves to disallow tourists will merely push it back into the black.
I don’t truly believe it will ever happen, not in this city. Of course, if it does, I’m sure I won’t be the only confused person in town.
JOE WEGECSANYI – AMSTERDO
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