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article imageAmsterdam sees closure of 'pot-cafes' as next step to prohibition

By Karen Graham     Nov 28, 2013 in World
The Netherlands is unique in its policy on marijuana possession. While it is considered an illegal drug, having 5 grams or less on your person is not a criminal offense. Visitors to Amsterdam's coffee shops may find this law doesn't apply to them anymore.
The Netherlands marijuana laws have given it the distinction of being the only country in the world to have coffee shops, hundreds of them, where patrons can legally "light-up" and smoke cannabis. The coffee shops are not to be confused with cafes where people can go for a cup of the real thing, coffee.
However, an ongoing national debate has been in the news, not only in Amsterdam, but nationwide, and it has to do with a law that went into effect on January 1, 2013. The law states that cannabis products can be sold only to legal residents of the Netherlands, effectively banning tourists from making purchases.
Two prohibition signs in Amsterdam (The Netherlands): smoking marijuana and drinking alcoholic bever...
Two prohibition signs in Amsterdam (The Netherlands): smoking marijuana and drinking alcoholic beverages not allowed!
Erik Joling
The Netherlands, being the progressive and open-minded nation that it is, left an "out" clause to individual municipalities. A clause in the law factors in "local circumstances." Using the clause, some cities near the border of countries opposed to the Netherlands drug laws have complied with the legislation, opting to keep relationships on a harmonious level.
In May, while trying to enforce what was turning out to be a very unpopular law, the government tried to issue "weed passes" in the southern region of the country. The weed passes, or membership cards, could only be issued to legal residents, another way to keep tourists out of the coffee shops.
Coffee shop owners were vehemently opposed to the membership cards, arguing that 90 percent of their business came from tourists lighting up in the shops. In Amsterdam, of the 7 million tourists visiting annually, over 2 million visit the city's 220 coffee shops, and the loss in revenue would amount to millions of dollars.
Cannabis shop owners, and the mayors of many of the Netherlands larger cities are not happy with the legislation, and have found it difficult enforcing the law. Opponents of the almost year-old law say complying fully with it will force the closing of most of the cannabis shops, as well as shops selling marijuana products, commonly called "seed" shops.
Amsterdam store window displaying various medical cannabis  hemp food and other types of products
Amsterdam store window displaying various medical cannabis, hemp food and other types of products
Nicollette from Bulgaria
But now, the sometimes fiery national debate over the Netherlands' marijuana laws has been given additional fuel, all because Amsterdam's mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, recently announced that starting Jan. 1, 2014, cannabis shops located within 250 meters of any secondary schools must close their doors during school hours.
While the mayor's edict will only affect 31 shops, most residents see the move as being just the first step in the eventual closing of the city's popular tourist stops, and this is exactly what the central government has been trying to accomplish all along. But Amsterdam's mayor has said tourists are not being barred from most of the country's cannabis cafes. despite the law. Polls of The Netherlands' major cities seem to back this statement up.
As far as how well the "members only" cards are working out in the southern regions of the country, surveys have shown that drug-related crimes are on the rise, and in some cases, the crime rate has doubled. In many cities, local laws have been relaxed, allowing residents to buy their marijuana without having a membership card.
More about Marijuana, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Cannibis, Cafe
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