From the beginning of next year, customers of cannabis coffee shops in the province of Limburg will only be able to buy the drug if they have a pass.
The measure was announced by the mayors of the eight towns and cities in the province which have coffee shops within their boundaries. The cannabis cafés will only be allowed to sell soft drugs to registered members.
Limburg lies in the southeast of the Netherlands, sandwiched between Belgium and Germany. Like other border provinces, it attracts large numbers of tourists from neighbouring countries who come specifically to buy cannabis, taking advantage of the Netherlands’ more liberal policy on the sale of the drug. Cannabis is not legal in the Netherlands, but retail sale in so-called coffee shops is tolerated. The wholesale market supplying the coffee shops remains strictly illegal.
The influx of so-called drugs tourists to the border provinces has led to complaints of nuisance from local residents, and has been a source of tension with neighbouring countries. The pass scheme is aimed at discouraging drugs tourists. Customers will have to obtain a pass before they can make a purchase, and the application will take several days to process. They will also have to pay using a debit card, so the transaction will show up on their bank statement. What is more, it will not be possible to buy more than three grams of cannabis a day anywhere in the province.
The trial scheme was initiated by Gerd Leers, the mayor of Maastricht, a city close to the Belgian border. It has the backing of Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin and Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst. Mr Leers initially favoured prohibiting foreign visitors from buying cannabis altogether. However, such a ban would be in breach of European Union law.
by Michael Blass