By Phillip Smith
The Dutch conservative coalition government's plan to close the country's famous cannabis coffee shops to foreigners and turn them into "members only" clubs is under increasing fire from coffee shop owners and pot enthusiasts. Last week, border coffee shop owners went to court to block the restrictions, and in Amsterdam on 4/20, hundreds of coffee shop supporters staged a flash-mob smoke-in to protest the proposed changes.
This as the conservative coalition itself collapsed Monday, with Prime Minister Mark Rudde resigning before being named caretaker leader until new elections can be held in the fall. The coalition collapsed after a rightist anti-immigrant party pulled out in protest of economic austerity measures.
Rudde's government plans to impose the restrictions on coffee shops in three southern border provinces May 1 and extend them nationwide on January 1, 2013. They would make all coffee shops "members only," limit them to Dutch citizens and residents, and cap the number of members at each club at 2,000.
The city of Amsterdam, where the cafes are a major tourist draw, is opposed to the plan. Mayor Eberhard Van der Laan said the city doesn't have big problems with pot smokers and that a policy that might make sense on the border doesn't make sense in the he Dutch capital. He said he wants to negotiate some sort of compromise with the national government.
The border cities of Tilburg, Breda and Maastricht also oppose the "weed pass" plan, but Eindhoven plans to implement it. The eastern city of Dordrecht, which is not subject to the May 1 deadline, has said it wants to adopt it anyway because it anticipates an influx of foreign buyers no longer able to go to the southern border towns.
Border coffee shop owners aren't waiting for the government to come around. Last Wednesday, they went to court in The Hague to overturn the restrictions, with their attorneys arguing that the ban on foreigners is discriminatory.
Dutch drug policy gives citizens "the fundamental right to the stimulant of their choosing" and should not deprive visiting foreigners of the same right, argued attorney Ilonka Kamans.
But government attorney Eric Daalder said the ban was necessary. "Fighting criminality and drug tourism is a reasonable justification," he told the court.
Marc Josemans, a Maastricht coffee shop owner, told the Associated Press he expected the government to lose when the court issued a decision Friday, but that if it won, he would disregard the ruling and force a test case.
"We understand that this topic is something that's of interest to tourists, but it's equally important to our Dutch customers, which is most of them," he said before the hearing. "The limits on membership are going to lead to immediate problems in cities that don't have enough coffee shops."
Two days after the coffee shops went to court, an estimated 500 people gathered in Amsterdam for a smoke-in to protest the government plan. Waving banners and t-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Weed Pass–No Thanks!" and "Weed Pass–Kiss My Ass!" protestors fired up joints and listened to reggae music.
"We are here to protest against the cannabis card," said organizer Peter Lunk. "We are legal consumers."
It's only a week until May 1, so, barring a favorable ruling in The Hague, the southern restrictions are likely to be imposed. But given that the conservative coalition pushing the restrictions has now crumbled and a new government must be elected, plans for the nationwide restrictions are looking much more iffy.