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Dutch ‘to ban’ tourists from buying cannabis from coffee shops

Foreigners heading to Amsterdam’s famous marijuana cafés will soon will be banned from buying cannabis in a bid to end drug tourism to the Netherlands.

“Coffee shops” where small amounts of cannabis have been legally bought and smoked since 1976, have become a major industry and a popular tourist attraction in Dutch cities. But the Dutch cabinet is expected on Friday to introduce measures to prevent tourists buying or smoking marijuana as part of a major overhaul of the country’s “gedoogbeleid” or tolerance policy on soft drugs.

The Dutch ministers of justice, home affairs and health will table proposals for legislation to keep foreigners out of the country’s cannabis selling cafés in order to reduce crime and social nuisances.

Under the proposals, “coffee shops”, that are licensed to sell marijuana, will have to introduce a members-only pass system to keep non-local or non-Dutch cannabis smokers from buying drugs.

“Coffee shops should again become what they were originally meant to be: vending points for local users and not large-scale suppliers to consumers from neighbouring countries,” concluded a government commission in July.

“The situation has got out of hand.”

One of the biggest problems caused by drug tourism is the influx of foreign tourists, including many young Britons, who come to Netherlands to smoke and consume cannabis that is illegal in their home countries.

The problem is especially acute in Dutch border towns and cities that lie close to Belgium, France and Germany.

Turnover of the legal “coffee shop” trade is estimated to be at least £1.6 billion every year.

New restrictions are also expected to reduce the amount of cannabis that can be bought over the counter, from five to three grams.

Raymond Dufour, of the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation, is opposed to the new restrictions which, he argued, will be challenged in the European Union courts.

“We have a problem with European law here, as all European citizens should be treated equally,” he told Radio Netherlands.

“It also won’t solve the problems in a city like Amsterdam. Many tourists buy their cannabis in coffee shops there. If they can’t buy it anymore, the sale will go underground as in many other cities in the world.”

By Bruno Waterfield

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