The Hague has become the first Dutch city to ban the smoking of cannabis around its city centre, central railway station and major shopping areas, in the latest example of a wider trend towards reining in country’s traditional gedoogbeleid (tolerance policy).
Flyers are to be distributed at cannabis-selling coffee shops and homeless shelters to warn of fines for those caught breaching the ban. An English-language version of the flyer is to be made available in hotels.
Cannabis is sold openly in 573 coffee shops operating in 103 of the 380 municipalities in the Netherlands, including The Hague.
However, awareness of the increase in strength of the varieties of the drug now available, compared with the 1970s when the tolerance policy was introduced, and concern that it is encouraging antisocial behavior, has seeped into the thinking of central and municipal authorities in recent years.
A spokesman for Pauline Krikke, the mayor of The Hague, said the “many complaints” from residents and visitors about the strong smell of cannabis, and the noise from its users, had prompted the prohibition.
The spokesman added that the mayor and police had decided there was evidence that “the use of soft drugs has a negative impact on the living environment of residents and visitors” in the areas where the ban will be in place.
The prohibition will be enforced by the police, with warnings given to those found to be using the drug in 13 designated public places over the next two weeks.
Fines, the level of which will be decided by the public prosecutor, will apply after that period, and the police will be proactively monitoring the doorways of shops for users.
The municipality of Amsterdam prohibits drug use around schools and playgrounds. Rotterdam introduced a ban on use in 2010 around five secondary vocational schools, which was later extended to schools across the entire city. The city has been also been seeking to reducing the number of coffee shops.
The development in The Hague is just the latest move in an attempt to tighten the rules around the sale and use of cannabis.
Recent governments have clamped down by banning coffee shops in border areas from serving tourists.
Last month the Dutch government announced a pilot scheme in 10 municipalities for the regulated production of cannabis, with cultivators recruited through a tender.
Coffee shops can currently sell the drug but are not allowed to produce it, which critics say provides a clear opening for criminal gangs to become the suppliers.