November 17, 2010 / 8:02 PM / 7 years ago

Dutch govt seeks tourist ban in cannabis shops

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government said on Wednesday it wanted to ban tourists from buying cannabis in "coffee shops," where hash is on sale legally, as part of a national crackdown on drug use.

The Netherlands has one of Europe's most liberal soft drug policies and its coffee shops are a popular tourist attraction, especially in Amsterdam and border cities near Belgium and Germany.

But some cities near the border with Belgium have clamped down on drug tourism, and the Dutch minister for security and justice confirmed Wednesday a wider crackdown after coalition parties agreed to push for a ban in September.

The government, which took office last month, has agreed to limit the sale of cannabis to Dutch residents to curb crime linked to its production and trading.

"No tourist attractions. We don't like that," the minister, Ivo Opstelten, told public broadcaster NOS Wednesday.

"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."

Amsterdam, home to 223 coffee shops, is already in the process of closing some in the red light district to tackle criminal activity in the area, and was studying the government proposal.

"We are taking the current practice as a starting point. It is not perfect but in many ways we have a functioning coffee shop system," an Amsterdam city spokesman said.

The government's plans for a tourist ban, whereby only holders of a resident's pass would be allowed to buy hash, has not yet been formally put into law and no timeframe has been proposed.

The possession of up to 5 grams (0.18 oz) of cannabis or hash is allowed in the Netherlands but large-scale production and transport is a crime.

Some Dutch border towns such as Maastricht and Terneuzen have already restricted the sale of marijuana to foreigners to limit crime and disturbances such as traffic jams.

The advocate-general of the European Court of Justice advised in July that Maastricht had the right to refuse foreigners entry to its coffee shops, giving support to the Dutch government's nationwide ban if the court followed the advice.

Editing by Sara Webb

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