Dutch fear threat to liberalism in "soft drugs" curbs

Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:20pm EDT
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By Sara Webb

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands is embarking on a crusade against its multi-billion-euro marijuana industry, with significant implications both for its economy and its famously liberal approach to life.

Along with tighter control of legalized prostitution and a swing to the right in attitudes toward immigration and Islam in recent years, the clampdown is seen as further evidence of an erosion of tolerance in a country known for its liberal social policies.

The push to clamp down on soft drugs has come mainly from the Christian Democrats, the junior partner in the minority government and one of the larger parties in a fragmented political landscape.

"There's clearly a shift in the moral debate. It's all about the culture of control," said Dirk Korf, professor of criminology at the University of Amsterdam.

Instantly recognizable from the sickly sweet, burned-leaf smell that wafts out onto the street, the Netherlands' world-renowned "coffee shops" are almost as common as supermarkets in big cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam and in certain border towns.

Like trained sommeliers, the staff or "bud tenders" are experts on the flavors and after-effects of whatever is on the menu -- white widow, vanilla kush, or hazers like amnesia "known for its extreme, almost paranoid psychedelic high, with an unforgettable strong fruity taste and smell."

Counter staff do a brisk trade in plastic sachets of loose grass, ready-rolled joints and chunks of hashish for those who want take-away.

The Netherlands tolerates the sale of up to 5 grams per person per day of marijuana and hashish in the controlled environment of the coffee shops. It also tolerates the home cultivation of marijuana plants, within a limit of five plants per person, but any cultivation larger than that is illegal.   Continued...

<p>A Dutch woman makes a cannabis cigarette in a coffee shop in Amsterdam October 6, 2011. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters</p>