Thirty-SIX years and many millions of joints after the Netherlands' laws on marijuana were relaxed, drug tourists from all over the planet are set to be weeded out when a nationwide ban on foreign dope-smokers takes effect.
Yesterday, a court in The Hague upheld a Dutch government plan to restrict sales of soft drugs to local residents in possession of an identity card, nicknamed a 'wietpas', or 'weedpass'.
Since 1976, Dutch authorities have tolerated the sale and consumption of small quantities of soft drugs. The policy was introduced to keep users away from the hard drugs trade, controlled by organised criminals. One consequence was to attract visitors from less-tolerant countries to a land where joints could be rolled, bongs inhaled and 'space-cakes' nibbled, without fear of prosecution.
In most European countries, the commercial landscape around major railway stations tends to be much the same: a hotel or two, a late-night shop and perhaps an internet cafe. But stations in many Dutch towns and cities often have a 'coffee shop' nearby. As with prostitution, these premises are licensed and health standards are strictly enforced: smoking tobacco is banned.
Visitors arriving at Amsterdam's Central Station need walk no more than five minutes to find coffee shop after coffee shop openly selling cannabis.
Fearful that border cities and the capital are becoming defined by drugs tourists, and that gangs are illegally exporting cannabis, the Dutch government wants to ban foreign visitors from buying drugs from 2013. Before that, coffee shops in the south must become 'members only'. From May 1, each will be limited to 2,000 members.
But Marc Josemans, chairman of the Association of Official Coffee Shops in Maastricht, sees no need for the change, telling BBC Five Live: "No other country in the world has such a low amount of people who die from abusing drugs." (© Independent News Service)