Dutch coffee shops face crackdown

Is it the beginning of the end for Dutch tolerance of weed? The recently elected conservative coalition has promised a number of controversial measures, including curbs on immigration, banning Islamic face covering, and of more interest to travelers, cracking down on legal marijuana smoking.

The Netherlands has been a destination for pot smokers ever since marijuana was made legal in the 1970s. The experiment intended to allow the use of soft drugs like pot while clamping down on hard drugs like heroin. It has had mixed success and as the political pendulum has swung to the right in recent years, more and more curbs have been put on the coffee shops where customers can buy and smoke pot. Magic mushrooms were banned recently, and some towns are restricting coffee shops or even closing them all down. There are currently about 700 coffee shops in The Netherlands, compared with 1,200 at their peak.

Now the coalition government wants to make all coffee shops into private clubs, effectively getting rid of the drug tourists. The question is, will this work? Common sense dictates that where there’s a demand, there will be a supply. Coffee shops might get around the law by offering temporary memberships or international memberships, or allowing members to bring guests. The measure would also not stop illegal sales of drugs. What it will do, however, is reduce the number of people coming to The Netherlands specifically to smoke their vacation away. While some of the bigger and more established coffee shops will no doubt survive, it looks like the industry is in for a bad trip.

[Image courtesy Tyson Williams via Gadling’s flickr pool]


Drug tourists banned from Dutch city

Potheads take note: unless you’re Dutch, you are no longer welcome in Maastricht.

The Dutch city passed a measure to ban foreigners from its coffee shops, where marijuana and hash are legal to buy and consume. Marc Josemans, chairman of the Association of Official Maastricht Coffee Shops, brought suit against the city, saying the ruling violates EU laws guaranteeing free commerce and free movement. An EU court, however, just ruled in favor of the city, citing that drugs are not legal everywhere in the EU so do not count as regular goods.

Owing to its location on the border with Belgium and its proximity to France and Germany, Maastricht is popular with drug tourists, attracting about 4,000 a day. An estimated 70 percent of the customers at the city’s coffee shops are foreigners.

Amsterdam has been cleaning up its act too. It has dramatically decreased its red light district and there has been discussion about making coffee shops members-only establishments so as to discourage drug tourists.

The image is an advertisement distributed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1935. Beware the friendly stranger.

Gadling TAKE FIVE: Week of September 6-12

There were some rather unusual stories floating around this week–the kind of odd stories that makes one wonder. Consider these:

  • There is a naked hiker in Germany who is going to continue with his naked hiking.
  • There was a fist fight on a plane that caused it to divert.
  • You can buy a car for 10 million dollars and shave your head to make money from Air New Zealand.
  • American Airlines is facing a lawsuit for losing a dead woman’s body.
  • A man who trespassed on Amtrak property is suing Amtrak for a really, really, really stupid reason, and O’Hare is the best worst airport, according to Josh.
  • In Spain, Abha braved hail stones that looked like they beaned a bird on her patio, Matthew told us about Sumo wrestlers suffering from too much pot smoking, and Jeffrey wondered who can be sued for the false story about United Airlines bankruptcy. United Airlines is not bankrupt.
  • If you are looking for a travel deal, in case you missed this one, Grant told us about dirt cheap cruises to places like the Bahamas. It’s a little odd to be thinking about a cruise when Ike is barrelling down on the Gulf Coast, but Grant said, don’t let a hurricane stop you–unless you are going to Texas.

Okay, that’s more than five, but, like I said, this has been an unusual week. It was definitely a good one for the first episode of a new season of Bizarre Foods.

If you are in Texas, Haiti, Louisiana or anywhere else battling out much, much, much wind and water, here is hoping you are being taken care of and have found safety.