Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dutch Weeding Out Stoned Tourists

Tourists to Amsterdam will soon have one less thing on their 'wish lists'.
Many seek out canals, Anne Frank's House, the Red Light District (er, just to look!)... maybe one of 'those' coffee shops where marijuana is openly on the menu.
But the Netherlands' famed tolerance for drugs is going up in smoke. The govt plans to ban foreign tourists from buying grass, by bringing in a "weed pass" available only to Dutch citizens and permanent residents. It argues the move is justified to crack down on so-called "drug tourists", couriers who cross the border from neighbouring Belgium and Germany, buy large stashes of dak and take it home to resell. Such issues don't exist in Amsterdam, where most tourists walk or ride bikes, and buy pot for their own use.
Many locals feel the "weed pass" won't solve anything and could create new problems: they say the coffee shops are well-regulated havens where people can buy soft drugs without coming into contact with heroin and cocaine dealers. Some worry the ban will harm the Netherlands' image as an open-minded society.
With five million tourists visiting Amsterdam each year (25% visiting a coffee shop), the Dutch tourism board says it'll be hard to judge the effect on tourism - it could reduce visits from those coming to smoke pot but increase tourists previously kept away by Amsterdam's seedy side. Meanwhile coffee shop owners in the southern city of Maastricht plan to disregard the new measure, forcing the govt to prosecute them in a test case.
The pass will roll out in 2013, turning coffee shops into private clubs, with membership open only to Dutch residents and limited to 2000 per shop. The Netherlands has more than 650 coffee shops, 214 of them in Amsterdam. That number has been steadily dropping as rules get tougher.
But it won't be just tourists who will miss out. With 650 coffee shops and just 2000 members per shop, thats only 1.3m "weed passes" for a population of 16.6m. I can't see this regulation being enforced easily...and furthermore, what's a tourist to do, if he actually wants a coffee???

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