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Amsterdam’s cannabis cafes to welcome tourists

Window of Amsterdam cannabis cafeAmsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan has announced that the city’s cannabis cafes will remain open next year after plans to reduce drug tourism were dropped. He made the decision after taking into account the unintended consequences from the ban – like the revival of trade on the black market. He noted that the current system allows the government to monitor the quality of soft drugs, as well as to limit access to the coffee shops to consumers aged 18 and older. If the black-market trade was to arise again, limiting access to cannabis would become impossible.

Van der Laan said that the country’s 1.5 million tourists wouldn’t be okay with no more cannabis. They would search across the city for drugs, which would lead to more fights over fake drugs, no control over the quality of the drugs they get and more thefts. All they have worked for would be lost.

The mayor’s office also said he has assured the government that the criminality and related issues around the cannabis cafes will be strongly dealt with, while the use of cannabis among young people will be countered further. He denies that he’s acting as the coffee shop owners’ errand boy and vows to strictly enforce regulations regarding the sale of marijuana to minors, as well as the strength of the sold drugs. This isn’t a question of the possible loss of revenue from international tourism at the cannabis cafes. There’s no role for flat economic motives in the matter, as their 1.5 million visitors aren’t only going to coffee shops.

The coffee shops have been tolerated in the Netherlands for a long time, but the sale of cannabis is still technically illegal. As of late, the tolerance has been criticised due to, in part, concern over the criminality surrounding the supply that originates from places like Morocco, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

The tipping point was a growth in annoying traffic to southern municipalities where Germans and Belgians are driving to buy drugs. The government said two years ago that sales to visitors would be prohibited this January, and only Dutch residents registered with a coffee shop would be able to enter the shops, as they would be turned into clubs. The ban’s first phase took effect at the beginning of May, impacting the south. The Maastricht has reported less vehicle traffic but more street dealers.

With the number of drug tourists in steep decline, plans to require that buyers have a cannabis pass to buy the drugs was axed. However, the government hasn’t pulled a proposal to prohibit the sale of drugs to foreigners. In light of this, Dutch Cannabis Retailers Association spokesman Michael Veling says Mayor Van der Laan may have talked out of turn to get a reaction from the government. He said the incoming cabinet for Prime Minister Mark Rutte has started to back off from the government’s previous position on the matter. Now the ban on foreigners purchasing marijuana would stay intact, but local councils could be permitted to have the final say. He thinks it’s been arranged already.

Dutch Justice Ministry spokeswoman Sentina van der Meer said that changes to the new policy haven’t been completed. She expects the new cabinet to make a decision next week.

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