All the cannabis-dealing coffeeshops in two Dutch towns near the Belgian border are closing down from 16 september. This decision was made by the mayors of Roozendaal and Bergen Op Zoom, which get a weekly 25,000 drug tourists.
The mayors announced this dramatic reversal in their 'cannabis-policy' at a mutual press conference. "We are now going to intervene proactively,' both said.
The coffeeshops of course are up in arms. Their advocates Harrie Nieland and André Beckers claim that 'banning cannabis from within the municipal boundaries is very similar to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States, which created far more criminality, not less.' It's entirely possible that they will lodge a court interdict to prevent this before that time, both said.
Tested with European laws
Nieland also noted that 'coffeeshops and tolerating them is a Dutch cultural phenomenon. If you want to change this, a countrywide new drugs-policy would have to be introduced, and this would also have to be tested to the European laws regarding the tolerance of soft drugs'.
However their neighbours in Belgium don't agree: they in fact want all the Dutch coffeeshops closed because the liberal Dutch 'tolerance' policies towards cannabis sales are causing major problems in their own regions too, with growing drug-addiction and criminality causing rising policing costs and unsafe living conditions for residents.
25 Belgian mayors recently travelled to a coffee shop in the Dutch border city of Maastricht to ask just one thing from the local mayor: to close down his hugely popular coffee shops. The Belgian mayors warned that the growing Flemish addiction to the high-potency Dutch weed was taking on alarming proportions and was creating massive crime- and addiction waves in their towns. seeDutch are out of step with European policy:
The Dutch coffeeshops are a problem for all their neighbours - the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark also complain of this problem, and point out that the Dutch cannabis-policy marches out of step with the rest of the EU-countries.
Flemish mayor Johan Sauwens of the Belgian border town of Bilzen kicked off the campaign to get the Dutch to fall into line late last year. Within weeks, his initiative was joined by 24 other Belgian mayors - and soon they travelled to Maastrict, to raise the thorny issue with the local mayor, Geerd Leers.
Maastricht is a youthful city, a university town in the heart of Europe only an hour by car from Brussels, Antwerp, Luxembourg, Cologne and Düsseldorf. And while it also produces some of the finest asparagus in Europe, it's much more famous for its high-class marijuana right now: and, police warn, is being grown to such high levels of potency that it now is just as addictive as cocaine -- yet is much cheaper.
Because of the ancient city's fabulous ambiance and the large number of coffee shops in the centre of town, it draws about 1,2-million drugs tourists a year, mainly from Germany, Belgium and France, drawn to the very attractive coffeeshops such as the Mississippi and Smokey coffeeshop boats, lying near each other in the centre of town in the Meuse river.
Criminalising effect of cannabis-shops
The foreign druggie-tourists' blogs are full of praise: but the Belgian neighbours, and indeed also the many families who live in downtown Maastricht, are sick and tired of the criminalising effect of the drug-tourism trade.
Though several EU nations have relaxed their laws on soft drugs somewhat, the Netherlands leads the way in regulating their sale. Coffeeshops are licensed and no alcohol can be sold or consumed in them. However there's a strangely contradictory law: technically all drugs remain illegal in the Netherlands though coffee shops are permitted to sell a maximum of five grammes of cannabis without facing prosecution.
And while it is an offence in the Netherlands to produce, possess, sell, import or export hard drugs or cannabis, it is not illegal to use drugs. That means it is legal for a customer to buy five grammes of cannabis in a coffee shop, but it is illegal for the shop to acquire the stock to sell. While the law has decriminalised those who use cannabis in small quantities it has not done the same for those who grow it or buy it into their coffee shops.
Maastricht is in the front line because of the massive demand from German, Belgian and French day-trippers.
But local Dutch residents in all the border towns - including Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom -- have also grown sick and tired of the growing crime, the zapped out drug-tourists and the traffic streams through their residential streets.
Maastricht residents want the coffeeshops moved to industrial areas, on the outer edge of the city.
And now at least two Dutch border towns have finally made the decision to close them down all together from September.
Drug-crime related arrests high in Maastricht
Peter Tans, head of communications for the Maastricht police, says that, of the estimated 21,000 people charged with crimes this year in south Limburg, 4,500 will be foreigners. To supply the demand at coffee shops - inflated by foreigners - Maastricht now supports a massive, subterranean cannabis-producing industry of its own.
Antillian, Moroccan drugs/prostitution gangs:
By 2006, the city's police alredy were doing nothing else except busting drug-dealers and illicit cannabis plantations. That year alone, 78kg of cannabis was seized and 43,000 adult cannabis plants destroyed.
Much of this had been farmed out to low-income households on the dole, under the supervision of criminal gangs - and very often the arrested criminals are Middle-Easterners and Antillians.
This identical problem was also identified in the coffee shops in Roosendaal, Bergen op Zoom -- and in downtown Amsterdam, where hard-drug crime gangs and prostitution, even sex-slavery with imported youngsters, often go hand-in-hand. That city too, has recently decided to crack down hard on the criminal gangs which gravitate to their red-light and coffee shop district.
The police in Maastricht too have been working hard ever since about 2005 to clean up the city, often raiding homes around the city whenever alerted by the power companies of electricity surges of the type required to run the lamps for cannabis plants (usually power supplies are diverted illegally).
According to police calculations, a producer can make €97,640 (£67,000) profit a year by cultivating 18 sq metres of cannabis plants.
Hard-drug criminal gangs growing in size, aggression:
More alarmingly, the Maastricht police find that this subculture is also making Maastricht fertile territory for gangs dealing in hard drugs. This started from about 2005, the year the police made 193 arrests in 23 raids, seizing 10kg of heroin, 1.5kg of cocaine, 12,000 ecstasy tablets, €171,000 in cash and 11 firearms.
And by February 2009, this problem still was very evident: there is an alarming increase in the number of drug-busts where hard-drugs are found this year instead of cannabis, police say. The latest bust, on February 12 2009, was of three Iraqi drugs-dealers. Police confiscated half a kilo of heroine, some cocaine, confiscated a car and 5,500 Euros in cash under the Dutch law allowing seizure by the State of assets gained from criminal activities.
To establish the exact extent of the regional problem, the Euregio Meuse-Rhine district joint study was launched through the Universitiies of Tilburg and Gent. The plan is to reach some kind of bi-country police-cooperation policy and to develop a combined drug-control strategy.
But first, the Belgians and Germans want the Dutch to close down their coffee-shops -- which are a massive drawing card for Flemish customers, who buy the stuff in The Netherlands and deal with it in Belgium and thus increase the levels of drug-addiction in their own regions.
Dutch police confirm this, noting that the security for Dutch residents deteriorates as soon as coffee shops open up: these cause a very rapid and sudden increase in the cost in policing, and always require stepped-up staffing of police stations to keep up with the growing and increasingly aggressive type of crime.
Around all the coffee shops, there's always more crime - burglaries, thefts, robberies, attacks on citizens by drug addicts; a stream of often unruly, often foreign drug-tourists which also cause unrest and an unsafe feeling atmosphere for local residents, especially the elderly and those with young children often show growing concern -- and there's the problem of increased drug addiction amongst youngsters. Dutch cannibis, the medical profession is warning, is also increasingly addictive, which makes the jump to cocaine more logical and easier. see