Dutch city hopes to weed out coffee shop criminals with cannabis plantation
The Dutch city of Eindhoven has caused a stir with a plan to set up a cannabis plantation to supply marijuana to its coffee shops.
The move was announced at a "weed summit", when dozens of Dutch mayors urged the government to back the pilot project in an effort to clamp down on the criminals who supply the drug.
The Netherlands, famed for having one of Europe's most tolerant policies on soft drugs, allows for the possession of less than 5g of marijuana and its sale in coffee shops, but bans the cultivation and supply of the drug to these shops. The majority of Dutch mayors say this legal "back door" has spawned an illicit industry worth €2bn a year.
"It's time that we experimented with a system of regulated plantations so we can have strict guidelines and controls on the quality and price," Rob de Gijzel, the Mayor of Eindhoven, said. "Authorities must get a grip on the supply of drugs to coffee shops."
There are also concerns about the increasing strength of unregulated cannabis, with the content of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active chemical ingredient, doubling in recent years.
The weed summit was called to thrash out a revamp of drugs policy after the provincial cities Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom announced plans to shut all their coffee shops in the next two years to combat drugs tourism and criminal activity. They complain that the 1.3 million French and Belgians who come every year for a puff of weed are often badly behaved. Worse still, they are targeted by drug runners who lure them away from legal outlets to back-door suppliers that offer harder, illegal drugs.
Han Polman, the Mayor of Bergen op Zoom, said: "We are in favour of the Eindhoven experiment but we don't see it happening quickly. That's why we are going ahead with our shutdown."
Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin, of the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal party, has applauded these "courageous" efforts to wipe out coffee shops.
Amsterdam was in shock over the weekend after news that one in five of its coffee shops would be forced to close under a new law. The city council said 43 of 228 sites must close by the end of 2011 because they are within 250m of a school. This includes the famous Bulldog coffee shop, a tourist magnet housed in a former police headquarters on the Leidseplein.
The headmistress of a nearby school, Margriet Bosman, was unimpressed by the new measure: "This is just for show. Children will get their drugs if they want to anyway, and closing the shops, which are quite regulated, is not a very good solution."
Amsterdam's mayor, Job Cohen, is also in favour of permitting the sale of soft drugs. "There should be a system... in which it is clear where soft drugs come from," he said. Many Dutch also want the tolerant approach to remain in place, with a recent newspaper poll showing 80pc of Dutch opposing coffee shop closures.
The plan for a cannabis plantation will now go before the Dutch cabinet. (© Independent News Service)