Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Netherlands weed laws regressing (for now)

I've been hearing all of the right-wing pundits pointing at recent developments in The Netherlands as proof de-criminalizing marijuana won't work in Canada. I had to investigate to see what was really going on.

The actual problem is that certain cities such as Maastricht, which borders both Belgium and Germany has been suffering a constant flow of a million plus non-Dutch driving to the city annually to purchase as much cannabis as possible, then drive back home. After numerous complaints and also as the result of a shift toward right-leaning government, a policy barring tourists from buying marijuana started in parts of the country today.

Some background: Weed is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but has been sold openly for decades in small amounts in designated "coffee shops" under the country's tolerance policy. With the policy change, only holders of a "weed pass" are allowed to make a purchase. Non-residents aren't eligible for the pass - which effectively bans tourists. The new policy doesn't go into effect in Amsterdam until next year. Amsterdam is home to a third of the country's coffee shops. The city opposes the new policy and since the conservative national government collapsed last week, time will tell whether the policy will last after elections are held.

Back in Maastricht, most shops plan to refuse to use the pass and kept their doors shut in protest today, but at least one shop is provoking the police to do something about their non-compliance. The plan is to challenge the new law in court as a form of discrimination. The mayor feels the closed shops are being rude. Most other cities in the area are protesting with closed shops or are defying the law. The residents aren't getting the passes either, figuring that the law will only be temporary until sense is restored to society. They're also afraid of privacy concerns over the information needed to get a pass.

A former chairman of the Netherlands' Police Union believes the policy's negative effects will outweigh any benefits and enforcement would waste resources. Anyone unable to get marijuana will walk down the street to drug dealers. Ironically, the reason the Dutch tolerance policy started in the 1970s was not because marijuana was OK, but because containing it in shops seemed like a decent way to deal with the issues caused by street dealing.

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