Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jul 2002
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2002
Authors: David Bamber and Rajeev Syal


Two Dutch cannabis cafe chains plan to open up to 50 ventures in Britain in 
a full-frontal assault on the police's ability to enforce drug laws.

Following the announcement by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, that 
cannabis will be downgraded from a class B to a class C drug next year, the 
firms - The Bulldog and Dutch Experience - are planning to open cafes in an 
attempt to force acceptance of the drug.

The cafes would be illegal even under the new classification. The owners 
point out, however, that their businesses are also technically illegal in 
Amsterdam, but their success has forced a change in policy which allows 
them to operate freely.

The backers believe that in Britain, too, the police will be so overwhelmed 
by the number of ventures - and their popularity - that they would be 
forced to allow them to remain open.

The two chains, which between them run 20 cafes in Holland, are both 
planning to launch in Britain. In addition, a string of independent cafes 
is also likely to open within the next year.

While police are adamant that they will not allow cannabis to be sold over 
the counter, websites for the two businesses already boast of their UK 
expansion plans.

One British man who is interested in running a Dutch-style coffee shop 
under franchise, said: "As long as these shops do not provoke the police, I 
think they will eventually accept them."

He said: "Even in Holland they are technically illegal, but they are 
allowed to operate unhindered."

Many Dutch cannabis cafes started by allowing cannabis to be smoked and 
gradually progressed to selling the drug. It is likely the British cafes 
will at first also limit themselves to providing premises for cannabis to 
be smoked and will not sell the substance.

Under Mr Blunkett's proposals, personal possession of cannabis will be made 
a non-arrestable offence, although dealing would attract a prison sentence 
of up to 14 years.

Among the sites being looked at by the Dutch chains and independent 
businessmen are premises in Bournemouth, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, 
Cumbria, Liverpool, Chester, Bath, Rhyl, Milton Keynes, Braintree, 
Brighton, Taunton, and Lambeth in London.

The movement to open a chain of shops in Britain has taken its inspiration 
from the independent Dutch Experience in Stockport, Britain's first 
cannabis cafe, which opened in September. It has been raided by police 
three times but is still open and attracts around 200 people a day.

Willie Wortel's Sinsemilla, a cannabis cafe in the Dutch town of Haarlem, 
has already begun to offer British would-be cafe entrepreneurs a course in 
running such a venture.

Twenty people paid ?575 each for a five-day course in May. Jeff Ditchfield, 
who attended the course, has sold his transport business in Rhyl, north 
Wales, and bought a cafe in the town which he hopes to open soon.

David Crane, the director of an internet company for seven years, is in the 
process of raising ?250,000 for an "upmarket" cafe in Hoxton, east London.

As well as Stockport, there have been several other abortive attempts to 
open cannabis cafes.

In Dorset, police arrested four men in April after they allegedly opened a 
cannabis cafe, called The Dutch Experience 2, in a warehouse in 
Bournemouth. The cafe remains open and sells teas, coffees and cannabis 
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