Pubdate: Thu, 29 May 2003
Source: Wilmington Morning Star (NC)
Copyright: 2003 Wilmington Morning Star
Author: Anthony Deutsch, Associated Press


AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - The latest news from the mecca of marijuana users 
is a real mindblower. Under a new ban on smoking in public places, Dutch 
coffee shops would be allowed to continue selling joints, but customers 
would have to go outside to smoke them.

To the chagrin of the owners of the country's popular marijuana smoking 
establishments, broad national health guidelines due to take effect next 
January seem to have inadvertently struck at the heart of the Dutch drug 

The law to ban smoking in public places is targeted at tobacco users, not 
marijuana smokers, and has met fierce resistance from restaurants and bars.

Those businesses argued the tobacco smoking prohibition would result in the 
loss of 50,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in revenues annually. So the industry 
- - as well as coffee shops that sell marijuana - has been granted an 
extension until January 2005.

Regardless, opponents say the ban will drive smoking customers at regular 
bars and cafes - about one in three of the Dutch smoke tobacco - across the 
borders to Germany and Belgium where it would still be allowed.

The first coffee shop selling marijuana and hashish opened in the 
Netherlands in 1972 and they now number more than 800 countrywide. Growers 
and sellers compete in annual taste-testing competitions in Amsterdam, 
where millions of tourists a year sample the vast varieties advertised on 

Besides selling small quantities of what the Dutch call "soft-drugs," many 
coffee shops also offer patrons couches, fresh fruit juices and board 
games. Alcohol is generally forbidden.

Reactions in Dutch coffee shops ranged from utter amazement to concern 
about what will happen to the three-decade-old tradition of social pot smoking.

"They've got to be out of their minds," laughed Annemiek van Royan, a 
regular at the Kashmir Lounge coffee shop in West Amsterdam. Lighting up a 
joint of Dutch "skunk weed," she said she comes every day to hang out and 
talk with other visitors who can lean back on colorful embroidered cushions 
and puff away.

Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik said the law was not intended to target 
coffee shops, and - as in all public areas - they could have smoking areas.
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MAP posted-by: Tom