Pubdate: Sat, 21 May 2005
Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Australia Web)
Copyright: 2005 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Tourists hoping to buy a cannabis joint in Dutch coffee shops could be in 
for a rude awakening this year under a test plan to curb drug tourism.

Soft drugs are legally banned in the Netherlands but under its policy of 
"tolerance", people are allowed to have less than 5 grams of cannabis in 
their possession.

Government-regulated coffee shops can hold a stock of up to 500 grams.

"We are developing a system whereby people not registered in the 
Netherlands will not be allowed into coffee shops," Justice Ministry 
spokesman Ivo Hommes said.

A pilot project will start up in Maastricht, on the southern tip of the 

"We want to do this to combat drugs tourism and should be able to start the 
project this summer," he said.

Maastricht, bordering Germany and Belgium, attracts the largest number of 
tourists in the Netherlands after Amsterdam.

They include an estimated 1.5 million drug tourists, the city's Mayor Gerd 
Leers said on Friday at a conference on tackling the cross-border soft 
drugs problem.

Some 400,000 cannabis smokers live in the Netherlands, where they can 
openly buy and smoke the drug, to the ire of neighbouring countries. The 
Dutch population is 16 million.

The centre-right government now wants to curb drugs tourism, in part due to 
pressure from its European partners.

The number of coffee shops has been cut to 754 nationwide in 2003 from 
1,200 in 1997, according to the latest figures from the Netherlands Trimbos 
institute for addiction studies.

The Government also hopes to stub out the illegal growing of hemp plants 
and sale of soft drugs by criminal groups.

"As member of parliament in The Hague, I thought it was possible to get rid 
of cannabis by taking hard measures. But after having been mayor of 
Maastricht for three years I see that it does not work," Mr Leers said.

"It's a 'water bed effect' if you push down on one part the problems pop up 
somewhere else," he said.

He said the tough approach did not work, likening it to the prohibition of 
alcohol in the United States in the 1920s, which he said was a "a textbook 
example of a failed experiment in social engineering".

Maastricht, which has about a dozen authorised coffee shops, is discussing 
details of the pilot with the Justice Ministry, which could involve user 
registration and identification.

But coffee shops fear the rules will create more problems and chase buyers 
into the illegal circuit.

"If coffee shops have to carry out controls at the door, people who don't 
want to register will turn to the illegal circuit. We think nuisance will 
only increase," the chairman of the association of official coffee shops of 
Maastricht, Marc Josemans, told the conference.

"Legalise it," was his suggestion.
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman