“Coffee Shops Will Disappear Within Two Years…The Netherlands Can’t Continue To Tolerate Existence of Coffee Shops Because Of International Opposition.”
-Henk van de Bunt, Professor of Criminology at Erasmus University (Radio Netherlands, Nov. 10, 2008)
In the last few weeks, NORML has received numerous inquiries from international and American media, and concerned NORML members, regarding the current and future legal status of The Netherlands’ tolerant and pragmatic cannabis policies. Recent news headlines have concentrated on minority Dutch parties and academics (many of whom have historically opposed the ‘coffee shop’ model) that have been able to persuade coalition government parties (who favor cannabis tolerance) in making two small concessions on where cannabis-selling cafes can be located in the country:
*43 of 228 cannabis-selling cafes in the city of Amsterdam will have to close by the end of 2011 because they are located less than 275 yards from a secondary school. One of the unfortunate victims of this political and zoning concession is the famous Bulldog Café on the Leidseplein.
*In the border city of Maastricht, in an effort to assuage neighboring countries, the city council has voted to remove coffee shops from the center city area (however, allowing them in the suburbs and neighborhoods).
According to the ministry of justice ‘coffee shops’ in The Netherlands where cannabis is sold fell from 729 in 2005 to 702 in 2007.
Dutch drug policy expert Peter Cohen tells NORML that the efforts of the anti-cannabis Christian Democratics “maybe no more than a prelude to some sort of regulation of cannabis production for recreational use. Every one is ready for it.”
A few days after these minor changes in Dutch cannabis were announced, a cannabis policy summit was convened by the influential Association of Dutch Municipalities in Almere where announcements were made that seem to affirm the Dutch’s fondness for their hundreds of cannabis-selling cafes:
1) Surveys of Dutch mayors from Binneblands and NRC newspaper were released indicating strong support for cannabis-selling cafes: 54 of 88 mayors favor legalizing cannabis sales, including the mayors of Amsterdam, Maastricht, Haarlem and Hilversum. Another 25 said they are satisfied with the current system of tolerated sales and 9 favor banning cannabis-selling cafes.
2) A result of convening the November 21 ‘cannabis summit’ in Almere was that instead of a narrowing the Dutch cannabis policies, representatives of more than 30 city governments seeking a path towards genuinely legal sales of cannabis agreed to create a municipally owned cannabis cultivation and processing center in the city of Eindhoven.
In an interview in the November 21st Volkskrant Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen makes it clear that the closing (or likely re-location) of the 43 cannabis-selling cafes in Amsterdam slated for 2011 is happening because of pressure from the national government, not his own judgment, “ We have cast iron arguments…a total ban on coffee shops really will not reduce the use of drugs.”
‘The Mafia In The United States Was Founded Thanks To Prohibition’
-Christian Democrat mayor of Maastricht
The ‘maverick’ Christian Democrat mayor of Maastricht, like his counterpart Mayor Cohen in Amsterdam, favors regulated coffee shops and compromise now with the national government with an eye to future regulations and controls for cannabis-selling cafes. Mayor Cohen went on to tell the cannabis summit in Almere that legalization of cannabis production and sales makes it easier for government to control and reduce the involvement of organized crime.
Volkskrant estimates that 25% of tourists coming to Amsterdam visit cannabis-selling cafés, and Mayor Cohen points out that cannabis tourists cause much less of a nuisance than foreigners who drink alcohol.
What is the uptake of all of this?
-Cannabis has been for almost 30 years, is now, and will continue to be legally sold in the Netherlands at hundreds of cannabis-selling cafes to adults over 18 years of age;
-The 43 cannabis-selling cafes scheduled to close (or re-locate) in 2011 are part of citywide effort to gentrify parts of Amsterdam’s ‘Old City’ that are prime for urban and tourist redevelopment;
-Cannabis tourists from Germany and Belgium can no longer readily purchase cannabis at nearby cross border cannabis-selling cafes or in the center of Maastricht;
–The Dutch still have the best, most effective and humane cannabis policy in the world.