Pubdate: Sun, 22 Jun 2003
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2003 The Washington Post Company
Author:  Anthony Deutsch, Associated Press
Bookmarks: (Cannabis) (The Netherlands)


Dutch Ban on Public Smoking Also Threatens Tradition of Social Marijuana Use

AMSTERDAM -- 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 liberal Dutch drug policy.

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

Those businesses argued the tobacco smoking prohibition
would result in the loss of 50,000 jobs and $ 1.5 billion in revenue
annually. So the businesses -- as well as coffee shops that sell
marijuana -- have been granted a one-year 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
smoking would still be allowed.

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

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

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

"They've got to be out of their minds," Annemiek van Royan,
a regular at the Kashmir Lounge coffee shop in West Amsterdam, said
with a laugh. 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.

"I bought a joint for now and a little more for later at
home. The best part is coming here to relax. It makes my day," she
said, asking the dealer jokingly if he was going to start selling hash

"Cake is so strong, it's too dangerous. People never know
how much to eat," said Johan de Vries, the bartender at the Kashmir
Lounge. He suggested building a heated outdoor terrace to get around
the new law.

Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik said the law was not
intended to target coffee shops and that the shops could have
designated smoking areas.

The sale of marijuana is officially illegal, but its use has
been decriminalized. Authorities allow the coffee shops to operate
under strict guidelines as a way of exerting some control over
behavior that they argue would happen anyway.

Even the head of the anti-smoking lobbying group Clean Air
Now, Willem van den Oetelaar, conceded that banning pot smoking in
coffee shops had not been the intended purpose of the campaign to stop
public smoking. But he still backed the move. "It's not our priority,
but it is a good thing," he said.

Van den Oetelaar said the organization's telephone hotline
had received more than 2,000 complaints about smoking in public places
since October -- but not one complaint about a coffee shop.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake