Citing crime, Dutch may 'arrest' marijuana tourism

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (BP)--Acknowledging that marijuana decriminalization has led to an increase in crime and societal problems, the new Netherlands conservative-leaning government wants to crack down on drug tourism by limiting marijuana sales in so-called "coffee shops" to Dutch residents.

The proposal was outlined weeks ago when the coalition government detailed its goals but is getting more attention now because Ivo Opstelten, the government's minister of security and justice, said the government is serious about the proposal.

Millions of tourists from all over Europe come to the Netherlands each year to smoke pot, which is relatively cheap at the coffee shops, or marijuana cafes. There are hundreds of such shops in Amsterdam and elsewhere.

"No tourist attractions. We don't like that," the minister, Ivo Opstelten, said during an interview with Netherlands media Nov. 17, Reuters reported. "The heart of the problem is crime and disturbances surrounding the sale. We have to go back to what it was meant for: local use for those who would like it."

The move could lead some of the marijuana cafes to shut down. One Amsterdam cafe employee told the Guardian newspaper that 99 percent of the shop's customers are tourists.

"All these coffee shops will have to close," the employee said.

Some British companies have unabashedly catered to drug tourists. One company calling itself the Dam Express (for Amsterdam) offers weekend roundtrip bus tours to Amsterdam for about $95 in U.S. currency, and advertises with depictions of cartoon characters getting stoned and drunk. "Why not visit the world famous Red Light District?" the website asks.

The coalition government's marijuana proposal said it wanted to take action to combat "anti-social and criminal behaviour linked to prostitution and drug trafficking." (The prostitution proposal includes raising the minimum age for prostitutes to 21.) Among the coalition's proposals related to marijuana:

-- turning the marijuana cafes into clubs with membership, with Dutch residents having to show proof of membership in order to purchase pot.

-- banning marijuana shops within 350 meters of schools.

-- increasing the penalties for importing or exporting drugs.

Dutch police already have begun a crackdown on illegal marijuana farms, which drain the power grid because of the amount of electricity needed to power the lights that help grow the plants. Excessive use of extension cords -- a fire hazard -- also is a problem. Illegal marijuana growers also have been known to steal electricity by fixing electric meters.

There are an estimated 40,000 illegal marijuana farms in the Netherlands, and police are asking the public for help. In early November, Dutch police mailed about 30,000 scratch-and-sniff cards to residents in Rotterdam and The Hague, the Associated Press reported. The cards contain the odor of marijuana plants, which smells drastically different from smoked marijuana. The cards contain a phone number to call if someone suspects a neighbor is growing marijuana illegally. Police destroy about 5,000 marijuana farms each year, AP said.


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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