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Netherlands: Marijuana Pass Planned for Nationals Only

(Sept. 17, 2009) The Dutch government plans to introduce a national marijuana pass, available only to Dutch nationals over 18 years of age, under a program that would ban foreigners from visiting “coffee shops” (marijuana cafes). The pass will also limit coffee shop visits to one per day and marijuana purchases to a maximum of three grams. Present Dutch policy allows legal purchases of up to five grams of the drug. The aim of the measure, which will enter into effect on January 1, 2010, is to combat an increase in drug tourist-related problems in Dutch border towns and cities. The scheme was actually launched in mid-May 2009, in Limburg province, but six out of eight areas that were part of the plan pulled out, due to a lack of government support for extra police officers and money needed to tighten restrictions on street dealers. (Cabinet Plan to Tackle Drug Tourists Criticised, RADIO NETHERLANDS WORLDWIDE, Sept. 10, 2009, available at http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/rnw-press-review-thursday-10-september
-2009
; Cannabis Cafe Pass Scheme Falls Apart, DUTCHNEWS.NL, May 21, 2009, available at http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2009/05/cannabis_cafe_pass_scheme_
fall.php
; Limburg Mayors Back Cannabis Pass Plan, DUTCHNEWS.NL, May 12, 2009, available at http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2009/05/limburg_mayors_back_cannab
is_p.php
.)

As part of an introductory trial, the government will invest €150,000 (about US$218,450) to establish entry cards for coffee cafes in the southern border city of Maastricht. Another €6 million will fund the city council's experiments to deal with coffee shop-related problems, in particular, reducing the number of large shops and the involvement of organized crime. The city's coffers garner €140 million annually from the drug tourist business, and so its coffee shop owners do not welcome the plan. Mayor Gerd Leers (the author of the pass scheme) and city council members are in favor of the proposal as a means to discourage tourists who come to Maastricht for the specific purpose of buying drugs, but the mayor acknowledged that the European Court might rule against it. (Cabinet to Fund Cannabis Pass Trials, DUTCHNEWS.NL, Aug. 26, 2009, available at http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2009/08/cabinet_to_fund_cannabis_p
ass.php
; Cannabis Cafe Pass Scheme Falls Apart, DUTCHNEWS.NL, May 21, 2009, available at http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2009/05/cannabis_cafe_pass_scheme_
fall.php
.)

A Cannabis and Coffee Shop Association spokesperson warned that “banning foreigners is discrimination, pure and simple,” and that “the pass system will force drug tourists to buy on the streets and that will cause huge problems.” (Cabinet Plan to Tackle Drug Tourists Criticised, supra.) There are said to be about 700 coffee shops in the Netherlands at present. (Cabinet to Fund Cannabis Pass Trials, supra.)