VENLO, Netherlands Each day thousands of giggling Germans flood the streets
of this beleaguered border town a place where soft drugs are legal, the
locals are fed up, and authorities have a solution that's thoroughly,
pragmatically Dutch: Drivethrough marijuana stores.

The idea is to make it easy for Teutonic drug tourists to turn around and
go home after making quick buys at two drugstogo shops that authorities
want to place near the border.

Venlo residents call the solution McDope.

But the German drug tourists are only half the problem in Venlo. Hundreds
of "runners" street reps for more than 60 illegal drug houses have taken
over the corners and sidewalks along the Maas River, hawking their wares to
passersby, even if the passersby happen to be 70yearold women bicycling to
the library.

"It's not comfortable anymore young people keep offering you drugs," said
one such resident, a grandmother named Helene no last name, please who was
pedaling through the riverside strip on a recent Saturday in search of a
new detective novel. "It's getting worse and worse and worse. This is a
gone place."

The city of 35,000 in Holland's Limburg region is a halfhour drive for 15
million Germans packed into the German industrial belt across the border.
After World War II, Germans started flocking to Venlo on weekends to shop
for household staples, which were much cheaper in Holland. The Germans
called it Butterfahrt butter trip.

Now their children come for Purple Haze and Wonderboy.

"Hashish? Hashish?" There's nothing hushed about the invitations hurled at
those who walk down the strand of tattoo parlors, sex shops and smoky cafes
along the Maas River. A blonde pulls her Maserati with German plates onto
the sidewalk, and a crowd mobs her window.

The runners are Turks and Moroccans who live in Venlo, said Hans van
Berkum, leader of the ruling Christian Democrat party in the city council.
He said immigrants from those countries control the business, which
officials estimate is as much as $40 million a year.

Possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana is legal in the Netherlands.
Authorities in Venlo have licensed five establishments, known as
coffeehouses, to sell small amounts of marijuana.

German authorities were not immediately wowed by the idea of McDope. They
had been unaware of the magnitude of the problem in Venlo, said HansJosef
Kampe, a legislator and drug counselor across the border in the German town
of Viersen. "At first, the Venlo mayor told us, 'It's only because of you
that we have this problem.' I said, 'Wait a moment. You offered something.
You created this supply. That gave rise to demand from our side.' '

The Germans thought only a few hundred of their young people bought
marijuana in Venlo, Kampe said. "When we found out it's actually 2,000 to
4,000 people a day, we said, 'We won't leave you alone with this.'"

That explains why German police officers will soon be walking a beat in the
Dutch town. "It will surely be a deterrent to see your own police officers
watching you even when you are across the border," Kampe said.

While the German officers will "provide information about what's legal and
what's not," they say they have bigger aims than harassing those who buy at
the border.

"We are not going to point binoculars at those who go through the
drivethroughs and stop their cars once they are on our side," he said. "We
are not interested in users carrying 2 grams. The cars we are trying to
stop pick up their supplies in totally different places. Large quantities
of hard drugs is what we are hoping to find."

Venlo, in the southeast, is paying for the more tolerant attitudes of the
larger cities in the western Netherlands, where only the North Sea not a
more uptight country is the nearest neighbor, said van Berkum.

"In general, Holland is a more permissive society towards soft drugs,
toward euthanasia, toward prostitution," he said. "At the borders, we
suffer more. The people are very much more annoyed than in Amsterdam. The
effect on a small city is much greater than in a bigger place."

The drivethroughs, which are months away from opening, are part of an
effort called Hector, after the defender of the ancient city of Troy.

The city will take applications from potential proprietors, and those who
operate the five licensed coffeehouses know the money will be tempting/..
But at least one of them says he is not interested.

Hesdy "Easy Man" Blank, 47, a Surinam native who has run the Rasta Fari
House since 1983, can't, see how anything that fast and impersonal could be

"This isn't the idea of the Dutch coffee shops," said Blank, sipping hot
tea in his lowkey establishment, as reggaeman Gregory Isaacs played on the
stereo. "You sit down, relax. Listen to music."

Regular customers at his shop know to order tea, coffee or a soft drink
before they buy marijuana. Those who don't want to socialize and share a
little of themselves, he said, are shown the door.

"Maybe I would open one [at the border], but I want to do more," Blank
said. "We could give them a place under the trees in the summer. So let me
make an Internet cafe, and people, if they have a problem with smoke, they
can meet with drug counselors. We're not going to just throw stuff into
cars. You're looking for problems."

Newshawk: Keith Brilhart
Pubdate: Sun, 24 Feb 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Daniel Rubin