Amsterdam 'coffee shops' stay open for tourists

Sat, Nov 3, 2012, 00:00

ALMOST TWO million tourists who visit Amsterdam every year to consume cannabis in its famous “coffee shops” will still be able to get stoned legally after January next, despite fears that a controversial new ban would exclude foreigners.

Although the ban will still come into effect across the Netherlands in the new year, the new Liberal-Labour Party coalition government has given local councils the power to opt out – and the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, says the city’s 220 cannabis cafes will remain open to everyone.

The tighter regulations were proposed by the Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition that lost power last April, and the new opt- out clause is part of a wider rethink that will substantially relax plans to turn the coffee shops into private members’ clubs open to Dutch residents only.

The rethink will also abandon the hugely unpopular requirement that even Dutch users of the cafes would have to register for a wietpas or “weed pass”, which customers maintained was an unacceptable invasion of their privacy and coffee shop owners said would ruin their businesses.

However, the new government says customers will have to be able to present evidence of age to prevent sales to minors, and it is to go ahead with a plan to place a maximum limit on the level of THC – tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis – in the drugs on sale. A ban on so-called “drugs tourists” was introduced on a trial basis in the south of the country on January 1st last in response to complaints about public nuisance – but a recent report by Maastricht university said one result of this had been a noticeable increase in street dealing, including to young teenagers.

Mr van der Laan, a consistent critic of the proposed ban, has welcomed the opt-out.

“A ban would have undone all the good work that has been achieved in recent years. We would have seen more robberies, more arguments over fake drugs, and less quality control – all the old problems would have come back.”

Other cities such as Rotterdam and Haarlem have been similarly critical – and are also expected to try to sidestep the ban.