Maastricht's Bad Experience with Cannabis 

Maastricht's Bad Experience with Cannabis 
Posted by CN Staff on December 26, 2005 at 13:19:52 PT
By Stephen Castle
Source: Independent UK
Amsterdam -- Aboard the Mississippi Boat, moored off the banks of the Maas river, the management has suddenly come over publicity-shy. "No interviews in here," says a burly, long-haired man propping up the bar, "we don't have anything to do with journalists." One of Holland's most popular, cannabis-selling coffee shops, the Mississippi Boat serves several hundred thousand people each year making its stream of customers the envy of many a Dutch retailer.
But Holland's famously liberal drug policy is about to confront its biggest challenge in decades. The council in Maastricht plans to make it technically illegal to serve foreigners in the city's 16 coffee shops, a move that could drive many of them out of business. If the policy is upheld in the courts, it could, eventually, be extended nationwide. The idea is just one of three controversial - and contradictory - schemes designed to curb the social problems produced by Holland's unique drug laws. Their fate is likely to determine the future of Dutch policy towards cannabis.The fact that these experiments are taking place in this, historic, city is no coincidence. Within easy driving distance of Belgium, Germany and France, Maastricht has proved a magnet for smokers eager to take advantage of liberal laws. In their wake a trade in illicit cannabis and harder drugs has grown up, accompanied by a rise in crime.Spurred on by complaints from police and residents, the Mayor of Maastricht, Geerd Leers, has decided that enough is enough. If Mr Leers gets his way, a new by-law will soon require all those who visit coffee shops to show identity cards proving that they are residents. Initially, the law will be enforced only in one coffee shop which will, if necessary, take the case all the way to the European Court of Justice. But, if it loses, foreigners could be banned for all 750 coffee shops in the Netherlands.In Maastricht's sprawling modern, municipal, headquarters they have been debating for years how to deal with the special effects of the country's drugs policy on a border city. Though they still support the principle of legalising limited use of cannabis, they believe bold steps are needed to tackle its unwelcome consequences here.Ramona Horbach, one of the Mayor's two drug advisers, argues: "People who visit Maastricht are responsible for a lot of problems, from parking problems to urinating in the streets. There is intimidation, there are efforts to persuade people to buy [hard] drugs. They are trying to sell cocaine, ecstasy or heroin." Most of the coffee shops are to be found in the relatively small, historic, centre of the city, concentrating the problems in one, compact and highly visible zone.But a small number are in other neighbourhoods, provoking local opposition.Ms Horbach's colleague, Jasperina de Jonge, adds: "Many tourists come to try to buy soft drugs here in the Netherlands that you cannot buy in Germany, France or Belgium."Too many people are visiting. Sometimes there is rowdy behaviour. Some of the coffee shops are in residential areas and people no longer like living there." Parents of young children feel particularly threatened by the combination of rising traffic and a reduced sense of security.Naturally it was not meant to be like this; the whole point of coffee shops was to bring the use of soft drugs out of the sphere of influence of the criminal gangs.Though several nations have relaxed their laws on soft drugs, the Netherlands leads the way in regulating their sale. Coffee shops are licensed and no alcohol can be sold or consumed in them. According to the government's own guide, the policy is a success. "Use of cannabis in the Netherlands is comparable to that in other European countries, whereas in the United States it is substantially higher," it says.But this has been achieved through a contradictory law. Technically all drugs are illegal in the Netherlands though coffee shops are permitted to sell a maximum of five grammes of cannabis without facing prosecution. While it is an offence to produce, possess, sell, import or export hard drugs or cannabis, it is not illegal to use drugs.That means it is legal for a customer to buy five grammes of cannabis in a coffee shop, but it is illegal for the shop to acquire the stock to sell.While the law has decriminalised those who use cannabis in small quantities it has not done the same for those who grow it or buy it into their coffee shops.Maastricht is in the front line because of the massive demand from German, Belgian and French day-trippers. According to the police, the south Limburg region of the Netherlands has an estimated 1.2 million drugs tourists every year.Peter Tans, head of communications for the Maastricht police, says that, of the estimated 21,000 people charged with crimes this year in south Limburg, 4,500 will be foreigners.To supply the demand at coffee shops - inflated by foreigners - Maastricht now supports a massive, subterranean cannabis-producing industry.In the city this year 78kg of cannabis has been seized and 43,000 adult cannabis plants destroyed. Much of this had been farmed out to low-income households under the supervision of gangs. Police raid homes around the city when alerted by the power companies of electricity surges of the type required to run the lamps for cannabis plants (usually power supplies are diverted illegally). According to police calculations, a producer can make €97,640 (£67,000) profit a year by cultivating 18sqm of cannabis plants.More alarmingly, the police fear that this subculture is making Maastricht fertile territory for gangs dealing in hard drugs. Between January and October 2005, police in the city made 193 arrests in 23 raids, seizing 10kg of heroin, 1.5kg of cocaine, 12,000 ecstasy tablets, €171,000 in cash and 11 firearms.Mr Tans says: "It can't go on like it has been for several years now. We hope that [the city's] experiment will be successful because the problems here give us a huge workload. It means 100,000 man-hours every year if 100 policemen are needed just to deal with the drugs problem." Prompted by mounting complaints, the city authorities, which have extensive powers under Dutch law, have taken several initiatives. The first was to clamp down gradually on the number of coffee shops.Each one must be licensed and Maastricht has refused new approvals so that, when owners leave or die, their businesses close. In the early to mid-1990s Maastricht boasted 30 coffee shops; it now has just over half that number.But with that failing to solve the problem, the city is adopting two, radically different, policies in addition to the effort to stop foreigners being served in coffee shops. The Mayor is leading a push to shift some of the coffee shops out of the city centre. Mr Leers wants to create three drive-in centres on main roads away from the heart of Maastricht and from residential areas to service the demand from drug tourists.Nicknamed "weed boulevard" or "McDope", this project directly contradicts the policy of barring foreigners from coffee shops because it is designed to serve that non-Dutch demand but keep it away from the city centre.Nevertheless, the authorities know their residents-only policy on cannabis will not be enforced for at least two years because of the time the legal test case will take.Moreover they want to start straight away on the drive-in plans in case the bar on non-residents proves to be against European law preventing discrimination against EU citizens.Finally, and most controversially, the city would like to see a liberal measure adopted to regulate the so-called "back door" coffee shop trade. Maastricht has offered to host an experiment in cultivating cannabis under strict supervision to supply local coffee shops and put criminal gangs out of business. Though the logic of their policies suggests that the Netherlands should allow legal production of cannabis, ministers have always shrunk from such a step, knowing it would provoke an international storm. Ms De Jonge says: "The problem of the back door has to be solved. Local government recognises that fact but national government has to see that that is the next step."For the coffee shop-owners the city's policies present an unprecedented challenge. Marc Josemans, who runs the Easy Going coffee shop, accepts that there are difficulties in the city, but says that "the only people who bring problems are the criminals who are being attracted by the stream of cannabis clients on our streets." Mr Josemans, who is president of the society of official coffee shops in Maastricht, is a fierce opponent of the city's efforts to bar foreigners and has agreed to be prosecuted so he can contest the case.He wants to work with the city council to agree a plan for moving some of the coffee shops out of the city. However he points out that persuading owners to relocate is impossible if their shops might later be banned from serving non-residents."As long as this pilot [project to ban foreigners] remains in the air it is very hard to persuade people to spread out of the city," he says, "we hope the city will postpone it by two or three years." One area of consensus is over the city's desire to cultivate cannabis legally. Because of the tough police line, "the good growers stop growing", says Mr Josemans, "they say it is too dangerous for them. Organised crime has big nurseries where they grow lower quality for higher prices. The idealism of our growers has gone. The guys we used to work with for 25 years are drawing back more and more."But while local government and the coffee shops agree that this is at the root of their problems, power to permit such an experiment rests in The Hague. Maastricht's plan to legalise the "backdoor" looks likely to be blocked by national government. And that will leave the city trying to manage the consequences of a flawed drug law with two, contradictory, policies. It will start creating coffee shops for foreigners outside the city centre, while putting in place a law that could ban them from buying.Just a few yards from the Mississippi Boat at Smoky's floating coffee shop, half a dozen people are sitting, smoking, sipping soft drinks and listening to loud rock music. Cannabis is on sale for between €4.50 and €15 a gram and there is little support for any crackdown on the trade.Most of the allegations against the coffee shops are false, says one client, adding: "You've heard about bar fights but no one's ever heard of a coffee shop fight".Smoky's sells less than 8 per cent to clients from Maastricht and places like this know the new law could drive them out of business. The man behind the bar has one word for the city's plans: "stupid". Note: One town in the Netherlands has become a magnet for smokers from around Europe. But now the council has had enough. Stephen Castle reports on a crackdown that could herald the end of Dutch liberalism.Source: Independent (UK)Author: Stephen Castle Published: December 26, 2005 Copyright: 2005 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.Contact: letters Related Articles:Dutch Politicans Seek Marijuana Rules Back Plan To Regulate Marijuana Farming Cannabis Users Turn To Home Growing 
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Comment #12 posted by FoM on December 27, 2005 at 07:22:48 PT
News Article from Radio Prague
Cannabis - Now a Normal Part of Life in the Czech Republic*** By Ian Willoughby December 27, 2005A recently released Europe-wide survey found that young people in the Czech Republic are the leading smokers of cannabis in the whole of the European Union. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain drugs were largely unheard of in Czech society, and were very much an underground phenomenon. Today, however, marijuana in particular seems to have become accepted as a normal part of life in the Czech Republic. A recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that of Czechs aged 16 to 34, 22 percent said they had smoked cannabis in the previous year; that is more than in any other EU country. 
In a cellar bar a stone's throw from Prague's Charles Bridge, I spoke to some young Czechs. For them, marijuana seems to be a normal part of life. Girl: "A couple of years ago it used to be like, I'm cool I'm smoking marijuana - nowadays it's just normal. Here they are pretty used to people smoking on the street so I'm not hiding. I don't smoke in clubs because the owners can have problems, but on the street people don't care." 
Boy: "I don't smoke, I used to, but my friends smoke, some of them lots." Girl: "The attitude is very open-minded. Even my parents, from the older generation, they don't take it as a real danger or anything." But the chances are that that girl's parents would have been unlikely to come across cannabis, or any other drugs, when they themselves were young. Translator and writer Josef Rauvolf remembers what it was like in communist Czechoslovakia. "Of course people knew about cannabis, but they mostly just knew about it. Some lucky ones had access to either home-grown or smuggled - well, mostly home-grown because smuggling could get you two years in prison at least. "The lucky ones, they had it, but the quality was very poor. If you had it in your garden nobody could call the police, because they didn't know what it was." But, says Josef Rauvolf, things have changed hugely since the Velvet Revolution. And not just among the younger generation. "The attitude to marijuana is quite liberal, even among just normal, average people. People in small villages they smoke it, and they don't take it as something special, something extra. They are just having a few beers so they have a few joints. Viktor Mravcik, photo:"It's not like it used to be - intellectuals or the underground, so-called counterculture. No, it's normal people, people driving tractors or whatever." Viktor Mravcik is the director of state agency the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. He says another change in the last decade and a half is that cannabis has become a business. "The market and distribution of marijuana has changed. In the past it was given for free or it was very cheap. It wasn't commercialised. There wasn't a market for it, let's say at the beginning of the '90s. Now it is commercialised and very rarely will you just be given marijuana - it's simply a product on the black market." Mr Mravcik's own institute monitors drug use in the Czech Republic, so the figures for Europe-wide consumption released last month come as no surprise to him. But he says they could give a misleading impression. "I have to say the Czech Republic is not the only one at the top, there is a group of four or five countries - including for example the UK - with very similar numbers. And we have to see this marijuana issue in the broader context of other psychoactive substances, even...or especially legal ones. "Czech society is traditionally tolerant of the use of alcohol, especially alcohol, and also tobacco. The context of marijuana use should be seen more broadly." And he says, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction survey focuses on the percentage of people smoked the drug at least once in the previous year. It does not take into account other factors. "It doesn't say anything about intensive marijuana use, about more frequent use and so on. Maybe Czechs are more curious, they would like to try different things in their lives." Hidden on an Old Town side street just a few minutes from Charles Bridge is Prague's Drop-In drug clinic. Its founder, Dr Ivan Douda, accepts that cannabis use is common in this country, but he also questions the data. "Statistics are a bit of a problem when it comes to drugs. We can take it optimistically, that we are an open society and our youngsters are good enough and free enough to speak about it. Second, it could be good news for us, because we have to take it as a complex. "It means if there are less hard drugs and more so-called soft drugs it's good news for us. And I think there are not such big differences between European countries - I mean five or six European countries, and these differences are not big." Some people have told me that the Czechs are top beer drinkers in the world and may be a connection - they like to relax. "(laughs) Yes, maybe it's something about the national character, that we prefer to smoke marijuana, because it's a drug of smiling, of music, of eating and other very pleasant things. "I remember 10, twelve years ago there was a demonstration by skinheads, it was a really aggressive conflict with some anarchists. And about 200 metres from this big aggressive conflict there was a demonstration for marijuana using. They were singing, dancing, in a good mood..." "I think the tendency is that marijuana will be very similar to alcohol, maybe alcohol is much more dangerous in some features. It means that we have some new drug in society." Given that marijuana use is more widespread now than it was 20 years ago, have you seen in your field any negative consequences of Czechs smoking grass? "You know, it is a drug. Even if we say it's a soft drug it is a drug and it has some risks. Some people are very sensitive to this drug. It's very similar to alcohol, some people are very sensitive to alcohol. "So we have to give youngsters some good information and show them, these are the risks and you are a responsible person, and you have to know that if you have...bad luck you can be similar to alcoholics or people who are using hard drugs." As for the legal situation in the Czech Republic, it's somewhat confusing: with possession of an undefined "amount not bigger than a small amount" considered just a misdemeanor. Ivan Douda welcomes a new law currently before the Czech Parliament which should make things clearer. "We will have some stratification, some drug categories, and marijuana will be on the low level. I think that the policy is more pragmatic than it was 10 years ago. But 20 years ago it was most pragmatic about drugs, because the Bolsheviks were not worried about drugs - it was not a problem of society." Copyright: 1996-2005 Radio Prague
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Comment #11 posted by WolfgangWylde on December 27, 2005 at 07:08:40 PT
Article 21...
...of the EU Charter of Rights:"Within the scope of appplication of the Treaty establishing the European Community and of the European Union, and without prejudice to the special provisions of those Treaties, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited".Looks like a slam dunk. Of course, you never know how a Court will interpret plain language in the face of political pressure.
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Comment #10 posted by BGreen on December 27, 2005 at 00:28:47 PT
Intelligent Nederlanders In Power Know
that any attempt to stop sales of cannabis to foreigners will create the worst black market the Netherlands has seen since the 1970's.Luckily for all of us, there are MANY more intelligent people than stupid people in power in the Netherlands than there are here in the police states.According to Nol van Schaik, owner of 3 coffeeshops in Haarlem (and told to me personally,) discrimination of any form is a violation of the Dutch constitution, and there is NO WAY this will be allowed.The Reverend Bud Green
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Comment #9 posted by pharmapharmer on December 27, 2005 at 00:07:27 PT:
Sometimes stoners misbehave...
It's unfortunate but true. There are bad apples and that is what this looks like. I have total empathy for the citizens of Maastricht. I live in a small college town with a highly transitory population. They behave the same way here in the US but they do it in the bars. We need to police ourselves. Speak up next time you see sombody ruining it for everybody. Use positive peer presure to help our young stoner brothers and sisters in the respect department. Just because you can whore it up and smoke pot till you choke dosn't mean the whole country is a fraternity house!
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Comment #8 posted by JHarshaw on December 26, 2005 at 21:07:31 PT
No way
Hi. I doubt the city council can pull this off. They would be, in effect, discriminating against other citizens of the European Union and I don't think that is allowed.Just a thought, Peace and Pot
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Comment #7 posted by b4daylight on December 26, 2005 at 18:49:23 PT
Ramona Horbach, one of the Mayor's two drug advisers, argues: "People who visit Maastricht are responsible for a lot of problems, from parking problems to urinating in the streets. These same people send millions of dollars to the government by visiting and buying there. . 
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Comment #6 posted by mayan on December 26, 2005 at 18:16:41 PT
Of course this all stems from the Bushista's coercion tactics and I'm sure the Dutch people at least suspect that. Considering that there is even more anti-Bush sentiment in Europe than there is in the states, there will be a major backlash against any such move. If folks can't drive to Holland to score they will simply find a way to produce bud themselves. The only thing that will suffer is the economy of Holland and the credibility of their government.THE WAY OUT...The Outrageous Demolition Of WTC 7: Associated Press Promotes 9/11 Perjury Witness As Presidential Candidate: Ready for THE YEAR OF TRUTH:;article=96910;show_parent=1Unplug the War Machine By Facing the Truth of 9/11:
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Comment #5 posted by cloud7 on December 26, 2005 at 16:23:28 PT
"schemes designed to curb the social problems produced by Holland's unique drug laws"The problems are not with Holland's drug laws, but the drug laws of the countries surrounding Holland. The citizens living in these border cities wouldn't be having problems with the large number of "tourists" coming to their cities if the other countries had sensible laws as well. I sure wouldn't be crossing borders to smoke if I could support my local cannabis cafe down the road.
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Comment #4 posted by observer on December 26, 2005 at 16:03:49 PT
illegal to serve foreigners
''The council in Maastricht plans to make it technically illegal to serve foreigners in the city's 16 coffee shops, a move that could drive many of them out of business''
One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you. (Exod.12:49)Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God. (Lev.24:22)One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you. (Num.15:16)

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Comment #3 posted by Zandor on December 26, 2005 at 15:50:57 PT
I'm sure The Bush Administration is...........
I bet on a large level the Bush Administration is behind this and Tony Blair’s attempt to once again push medical marijuana back into the dark ages and make it illegal once again.Impeach the bastard!!
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Comment #2 posted by unkat27 on December 26, 2005 at 15:50:28 PT
Looks like...
imperial pressure from the DEA and its fascist Euro allies. 
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Comment #1 posted by rchandar on December 26, 2005 at 13:44:37 PT:
this story...
...all it means is that there's no actual danger to us for 2 years. I think by then the government may change, in our favor.--rchandar
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