Bloomberg News

Netherlands Stops Tourists Buying Marijuana in Coffee Shops

December 15, 2011

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Foreigners traveling to the Netherlands will be barred from buying marijuana in so-called coffee shops next year, a move that could hurt tourism to the capital, Amsterdam.

“There will be an end to the open-door policy,” Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said in a letter to lawmakers today. “Stricter rules will make coffee shops smaller, better controllable and reduce the attractiveness of Dutch drug policy for foreign users.”

The Netherlands decriminalized the use of marijuana in 1976, stopping short of legalizing the drug because international treaties prohibited it from doing so. The country’s first coffee shop, named after Donovan’s song “Mellow Yellow,” opened its doors four years earlier.

While the 223 Amsterdam coffee shops are visited by about 1 million tourists annually, they’ll now only be allowed to sell to Dutch citizens and foreigners who live in the country. Every coffee shop can register as many as 2,000 members who are allowed to buy marijuana or hashish, the minister wrote.

“Tourists will come anyway,” Iris Reshef, a spokeswoman for the city of Amsterdam, said by telephone today. “We prefer selling it in a responsible way instead of going back to the days that street dealers in the Red Light district sold soft drugs alongside hard drugs” like cocaine and heroin.

Maastricht, a city near the borders with Belgium and Germany, is satisfied with the new rules, Mayor Onno Hoes told news agency ANP today. The southern Dutch city has been seeking ways to cut crime and public nuisance that accompanies marijuana sales to foreigners.

The government will use its embassies to inform tourists traveling to the Netherlands about the new policy. Police will act if street dealers try to fill the gap, Charlotte Menten, a ministry spokeswoman, said by telephone today.

“The members-only rule is meant for public nuisance at coffee shops near the border, where foreigners line up their cars to buy,” said Reshef. She said the city of Amsterdam is still in talks with the ministry, adding that the border situation can’t be compared to Amsterdam’s.

The government will start enforcing the new rules in May in the southern provinces and in 2013 in the rest of the country, including Amsterdam.

--With assistance from Martijn van der Starre in Amsterdam. Editors: Andrew Atkinson, Eddie Buckle

To contact the reporter on this story: Jurjen van de Pol in Amsterdam at jvandepol@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Ludden at jludden@bloomberg.net.


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