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article imageVisiting Amsterdam for the pot? Sorry, not for foreigners

By Anne Sewell     Apr 28, 2012 in World
Amsterdam - Amsterdam is famous for its "coffee shops" where you can have, well, just a little more than just plain old coffee. But now a judge is upholding a plan to ban foreign tourists from indulging.
There are currently more than 650 coffee shops in the Netherlands, of which 214 are in Amsterdam.
On Friday this week a Netherlands court upheld a brand new law that will introduce a "weed pass" which will be available exclusively to Dutch citizens and permanent residents in the country.
This means that when you go into a coffee shop, you'll just have to put up with a cappuccino instead.
The ruling comes into power in the southern provinces of the Netherlands next Tuesday.
From there, if the government gets its way, the pass plan will then spread to the rest of the country next year. Coffee shops will then be turned into private clubs with membership only for Dutch residents. Each shop will be limited to 2,000 members per shop.
However, this new plan does not sit well with everyone as it will badly affect tourism in the country. To quote the head of Dutch tour operator TUI, "The coffee shops belong to our culture.... That will really hit the city bad. Also many young foreigners after their first visit will not return at an older age when they have more money."
In other words, youngsters enjoy visiting Amsterdam for the marijuana, and not for the canals.
Reuters obtained a letter written to parliament by the Netherlands health and justice ministers which read, "In order to tackle the nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drug trafficking, the open-door policy of coffee shops will end."
The Dutch minister for security and justice, Ivo Opstelten told the public broadcaster NOS on Wednesday, "No tourist attractions. We don't like that."
"The heart of the problem is crime and disturbances surrounding the sale. We have to go back to what it was meant for: local use for those who would like it."
The cabinet had more to say: "The cabinet expects that the closure of coffee shops to foreign drug tourists will result in that they no longer travel to the Netherlands for the sale and consumption of cannabis. After all, for many of them applies that they can use the existing illegal market in their own country. Nevertheless will the possible side effects of these measures be monitored closely and adequately addressed by the police, judiciary, and administration."
Once the Netherlands had a very laid back and tolerant attitude to soft drugs, but now that is all set to change.
In its defense, the Dutch government argues that the move is justified to crack down on so-called “drug tourists.” They state that effectively they are couriers who cross the border from neighboring Germany and Belgium to buy large quantities of marijuana. They then take it home to sell it. Government officials say that these "couriers" cause public order and traffic problems in towns along the Dutch border.
However, not all the so-called "drug tourists" are drug dealers. Many tourists enjoy the novelty of smoking a joint in an Amsterdam coffee shop, something that they just can't do at home.
Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan is concerned that tourism will suffer over this measure and is hoping to make a compromise with the national government.
Therese Ariaans, representative with the Dutch Tourism Board, states that it is hard to judge what the effects will be on tourism. While it could reduce visits from pot smokers, it could on the other hand increase tourists who have previously avoided Amsterdam's seedier side.
Coffee-shop owners haven't given up the battle either and they recently organized a few hundred people in a "smoke-out" in downtown Amsterdam in protest against the restrictions.
A lawyer for a coffee shop, Veldman, says that the new decision is a political judgment and asked, “The judge completely fails to answer the principal question: Can you discriminate against foreigners when there is no public order issue at stake?”
An Amsterdam spokeswoman, Tahira Limon stated that the "weed pass“ doesn't solve any problems we have here and it could create new problems.”
A local resident warned, “If you make it so that tourists can't buy weed in a coffee shop, then they're going to buy it on the street. You add more problems than you solve.''
Whatever they all say, the conservative Dutch government stresses that it wants the shops returned back to their original state - local shops for local people.
However, with the government breaking down this week, and new elections scheduled for September, it is unknown whether those in future power will keep these new measures in place.
If you haven't been to Amsterdam for a "smoke" in a coffee shop before, you had better do it soon, just in case!
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