Tougher anti-drug policies in the Netherlands spark protest
Maastricht and a few other Dutch cities became the first to implement new anti-drug laws. The rules, that will come into force nationwide from January 1, 2013, prohibit foreigners from buying marijuana, and introduce obligatory client registration.
On May 1st new anti-drug laws came into force in several south Dutch cities among wide-spread opposition. According to the new rules foreigners are banned from entering licenced marijuana selling shops, so-called 'coffee shops'. All coffee shops must keep a list of registered Dutch clients which will be limited in size. This system has been nicknamed 'weed paas' by the Dutch and is highly controversial.
Although for many the issues is about image of the Netherlands as a liberal state where use of soft drugs is tolerated, even if not unambiguously legal. However, there is more to that. The policy introduced by the right-wing government that collapsed few weeks ago over austerity measures aims to prevent drug tourism in the Netherlands. Officials say that limits to marijuana trade will decrease crime rate, as well as level of nuisance.
Many Dutchmen counter this argument by pointing out the economical dimension.
Firstly, no facts support the thesis of higher crime level due to tolerated soft drugs sale. In fact, most international anti-drug organisation recommend legalisation of soft drugs as a mean of effective fight against more harmful substances.
Secondly, in Maastricht alone nearly 400 people are expected to lose jobs due to decreased number of clients at the coffee shops, as well as due to generally lower inflow of foreigners. Drug tourism constituted a huge boost to the Dutch economy and for many it seems counterlogical to refuse this source of inflow in economically challenging time of crisis.
After the new rules were introduced, many coffee shops closed down. Local television network L1 reports that in some of them no customers were registered as of May 1st, and in none the number of allowed members exceeded 10. Some coffee shop owners decided to close down their business temporarily in protest against the measures, while others withdrew from the business.
Coffee shop owners and citizens promise to bring cases to the courts. However, until now both the European Court of Human Rights and the Dutch courts have ruled in favour of the new law, rejecting the notion of it being discriminatory. Many still believe, though, that the "weed pass" infringes upon right to privacy.