The Dutch city of Maastricht is acting within EU law by banning foreigners from its cannabis-selling coffeeshops, Europe’s top court has said.
Located close to the country’s southernmost border, the capital of Limburg province is popular with weed smokers, particularly from Belgium and France. The use of soft drugs is not illegal in the Netherlands, and the trade is tolerated.
Curb the influx
To limit the drugs tourism, Maastricht’s city government restricted access to the “coffeeshops”, allowing only Dutch residents to enter. Approximately 4,000 smokers enter Maastricht every day to stock up, with an estimated 70 percent coming in from abroad.
In 2006 a police raid on a coffeeshop revealed that despite the ban, both Dutch and foreign smokers were sampling its wares, upon which the shop was shut down.
The Association of Maastricht Coffeeshops brought a legal challenge to the closure before the Netherlands’ Council of State, on the grounds that banning foreign clients from a shop is in contravention of European Union regulation on free movement and free trade.
The Council of State consulted the European Court of Justice, which said on Thursday that “narcotics, including cannabis, are not goods like others and their sale does not benefit from the freedoms of movement guaranteed by European Union law, inasmuch as their sale is unlawful”. An exception was made, however, for medicinal use of cannabis, to which the EU’s free trade rules do apply.
Maastricht was right to see the unrestricted trade in cannabis as a threat to public order and to issue its foreigner ban, the EU court said. It was “a measure necessary to protect the residents of the municipality from trouble”, the court explained in its statement.