Some Dutch cannabis "coffee shops" to go up in smoke

Fri Nov 21, 2008 11:08am EST
 
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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Almost a fifth of Amsterdam's popular marijuana-selling coffee shops are to be closed because they are too close to schools, the city council said on Friday.

Of the 228 such shops in the Dutch capital, 43 must close by the end of 2011 because they are within 250 m (yards) of a secondary school, the council said.

But the city, home to a quarter of the nation's cannabis coffee shops that are a big draw for tourists, threw its support behind a controversial Dutch policy permitting the sale of "soft drugs."

"There should be a system introduced in which it is clear where soft drugs come from," the city said in a statement in which it also urged prosecution of any possible criminal links in the supply of cannabis.

In addition to marijuana, deemed a soft drug, some shops also sell so-called "magic mushrooms" which have psychedelic properties.

The policy on soft drugs in the Netherlands, one of the most liberal in Europe, allows for the sale of marijuana at coffee shops, which the Dutch have allowed to operate since the 1960s, and possession of less than 5 grams (0.18 oz).

But the cultivation or supply of the drug to the shops, the so-called "back door" of the business, is banned.

The policy is not without critics and Dutch mayors will meet on Friday in Almere, 30 km (19 miles) east of Amsterdam, to discuss a possible revamp.

The meeting was called after Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal, located near the Belgian border, said recently they will close all coffee shops in their jurisdiction within two years to combat drug tourism and criminality, Dutch media has reported.

(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; editing by Michael Roddy)