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Dutch Drug Cafe Ban Puts British Noses Out Of Joint

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After Years Of Tolerance, Foreigners Are To Be Excluded From Amsterdam's
Cannabis Shops

THOUSANDS of Britons who flock to the cannabis cafes of Amsterdam each year
may be left stone cold by Dutch government plans to end "drug tourism". The
Netherlands' conservative Government has just unveiled a scheme to restrict
access to the country's drug-selling coffee shops to Dutch residents only.
Coffee shops would be restricted to members, with membership permits sold
only to local people.

The Dutch city is renowned as the drugs capital of Europe, having become
the destination of choice for revellers looking for the high life. Hundreds
of coffee shops openly offer menus for different types of resin and grass.
However, the Government is keen to clean up the country's image and has
been under pressure from its more puritanical neighbours, particularly
France and Germany, whose citizens flock across the Dutch border to buy
cannabis.

"We are willing to do something about tourists and foreigners buying
hashish in coffee shops. One option is having permits for customers, and
then you don't give permits to foreigners," a spokesman for the Justice
Ministry said.

The announcement has dismayed Britain's normally laid-back cannabis-users.
"We are devastated," Alan Buffry, of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, said.
"It's always been a refuge where you can smoke and relax without having to
look over your shoulder. It was like a holiday from the police."

The proposals have also triggered vehement protests from the Dutch coffee
shops, which are fully licensed by local authorities and pay millions of
pounds in tax. "It's totally ridiculous. The minister is stupid. If this
system comes in, all the tourists will buy from criminals in the street,"
Arjan Roskam, of the Union of Cannabis Retailers, said.

The plans, which are to be confirmed by Christmas, were put forward by Piet
Hein Donner, the Justice Minister, during a visit to Germany, which has
criticised the Netherlands for not doing enough in the war on drugs.

The proposals are aimed specifically at curbing cross-border
drug-trafficking. German dealers, for example, drive across the
uncontrolled border, stock up at coffee shops and then return.

About 60 per cent of sales at coffee shops near the German border are to
Germans, while in Amsterdam in summer about 40 per cent of coffee-shop
trade is with tourists.

Local authorities are responsible for licensing coffee shops and it will be
up to them to implement the scheme. The Association of Dutch Municipalities
said that it would wait for the full publication of the plans before
commenting. The authorities have already closed some of the less
respectable coffee shops and restricted sales to 5 grams of cannabis to
each customer at a time. Shops have to limit their stock to 500 grams.

The conservative Government has said that it wants to halve the number of
coffee shops, which have fallen from a peak of nearly 2,000 in 1997 to 782.
This year, the coffee shops survived a proposed smoking ban in all
restaurants and cafes, which would have wiped them out. The ban was dropped
at the last minute.

Phil Kilvington, editor of Britain's Weed World magazine, was
philosophical. With Britain downgrading cannabis to a Class C drug, he
said: "It's going to be easier to smoke here than go to Amsterdam. It's not
even very high quality there -- you can get better quality here in the UK,
and people are starting to realise that.

"Different smokes, different folks

Nordic countries: Possession and use of soft drugs is illegal

Britain: From January, marijuana, formerly Class B, will become a Class C
drug. Possession carries a maximum term of two years, but most offenders
will get off with a warning

France: Possession of soft drugs risks a heavy fine and a year in prison,
but cannabis users are seldom prosecuted

Germany: Cannabis use is illegal, but those possessing small quantities are
seldom prosecuted

Greece: Users can face prison, but enforcement is lax

Portugal: Cannabis is illegal, but those possessing small amounts are no
longer jailed but are instead given mandatory counselling, and sometimes
community service or a small fine

Switzerland: Cannabis remains illegal, but probably not for long. A
government attempt to decriminalise it narrowly failed, but police still
turn a blind eye to those smoking it in public

Croatia: Prosecution for possession for personal use has ended, but selling
it is punishable by up to 15 years in jail Italy: A 1993 referendum
decriminalised possession of a "minimum daily dose" of marijuana

Belgium: Possession of cannabis was decriminalised in 2002 Spain:
Possession of marijuana for personal use carries no sanction

The Netherlands: Legislation dating back to 1976 decriminalised cannabis.
Consumption and sale of the drug is allowed in coffee shops, with annual
sales about UKP 1.8 billion


Pubdate: Sat, 25 Oct 2003
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd
Contact: letters@thetimes.co.uk
Website: The Times & The Sunday Times