Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jun 2000
Source: Financial Times (UK)
Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2000
Contact:  1 Southwark Bridge, London, SE1 9HL, UK
Fax: +44 171 873 3922
Author: Gordon Cramb


The Dutch parliament yesterday voted to decriminalise the wholesale trade in
cannabis, in a surprise outcome that has wrong-footed the cabinet. A narrow
majority backed a motion aimed at removing the anomaly under which licensed
"coffee shops" are allowed to hold and sell small quantities of the drug,
while their suppliers remain open to prosecution.

The move is likely to draw renewed international scrutiny of the
Netherlands' liberal drugs policy. Benk Korthals, justice minister, said:
"This sends the wrong signal, and is contrary to international treaties."
The centre-left cabinet is to discuss the issue on Friday, at its last
meeting before the summer recess. But he indicated that he would not draw up
legislation to comply with the vote.

As many as 60 Dutch local authorities, which regulate the coffee shops, are
in favour of the change. Edumond d'Hondt, mayor of the eastern city of
Nijmegen, said he would fight any resistance by the cabinet, threatening a
lawsuit if it did not comply with the wish of parliament.

The best hope of ministers appeared last night to be the holding of a fresh
parliamentary debate later in the year, at which the 73-72 vote could be

After a review of policy on "soft" drugs, Mr Korthals said in April that
enforcement efforts would be aimed mainly at illegal cultivation within the
country as well as imports. Greenhouse cultivation has been on the rise,
although the International Narcotics Control Board, a United Nations agency,
in February said the country's initiatives in curbing the growing of the
drug were exemplary.

Unlicensed points of sale, such as private houses and delivery services,
were spreading rapidly in cities, according to the justice ministry. That
came amid a fall in the number of coffee shops, to a national total of 840
from 1,200 five years ago.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Don Beck