Cannabis Cafes Get Nudge To Fringes of a City

  Cannabis Cafes Get Nudge To Fringes of a City

Posted by CN Staff on August 20, 2006 at 06:50:17 PT
By Marlise Simons 
Source: New York Times  

Maastricht, The Netherlands -- Watched over by a content Mona Lisa with a large reefer between her lips, clients of the Smoky Boat offer a cozy picture of peace, playing backgammon and sipping juice between puffs from cigarettes laced with hashish or marijuana.The tranquillity, however, could come to an abrupt end. Marc Josemans, the owner of the Smoky Boat, a cannabis cafe on a docked river barge here in Maastricht, said he might soon be packing up his menu of pungent “Nirvana Special,” “Silver Haze” and “Super Skunk.”
The mayor wants to move most of the city’s 16 licensed cannabis cafes to the edge of town, preferably close to the border.Maastricht, a medieval town on the Meuse River in the hilly south of the Netherlands, has long cherished its rare position, with Belgium and Germany just a few miles away, giving the people a casual ease with foreign languages, food and visitors.But as the southernmost point of the nation with Europe’s most lenient soft-drug laws, Maastricht has also turned into a hub for foreign smokers and dealers. The police say drug tourists, estimated at more than a million per year, come to shop from neighboring countries, some as far away as France and Switzerland. The multimillion-dollar trade has spawned a supply chain of illicit growers and underground traders.It was not meant to be this way.“People who come from far away don’t just come for the five grams you can buy legally over the counter,” said Piet Tans, a police spokesman. “They think pounds and kilos; they go to dealers who operate in the shadows.”The police regularly destroy indoor nurseries, often detected because of the high electricity bills run up by the grow lights, he said. But new nurseries, hidden in attics and basements, keep springing up to feed the international clientele. Mr. Tans said the flourishing drug tourism had also attracted pushers of hard drugs from Amsterdam, who often harass people on the streets.Residents complain of traffic problems, petty crime, loitering and public urinating. There have been shoot-outs between Balkan gangs. Maastricht’s small police force says it cannot cope and is already spending one-third of its time on drug-related problems.The mayor, Gerd Leers, and the town council have been searching for answers. Forbidding sales to nonresidents would likely violate European antidiscrimination rules, and closing the cannabis cafes is not the solution either, he said. “The trade will just go underground because demand will not disappear.”So he has drawn up a scheme to move at least half the cafes away from the charming narrow downtown streets and resettle them along the highways near the borders.He has met with mayors from a dozen nearby Belgian and German towns and villages, explaining his ideas and pleading for cross-border solidarity and greater collaboration. Some have signed a cooperation plan, but others have protested.Huub Broers, mayor of the nearby Belgian town of Voeren, is one who objected to getting the new outlets on his doorstep. The Dutch brought on the problem themselves, he said: if there were no sales in Maastricht, the French and the Belgians would not go there to stock up. But Mayor Leers argues that Maastricht has merely borne the brunt of a general problem the mayors would otherwise find at home.Several other Dutch border cities intend to relocate their cannabis outlets. “We have already moved two cafes close to the frontier with Germany, where most clients come from,” said Rick van Druten, a town official in Venlo. “They buy and turn around,” he added. “It solved a lot of congestion and loitering.”The problem in Maastricht and other border towns echoes a broader tension that has grown since The Netherlands began allowing the regulated sale of marijuana and hashish in 1976. As national borders lost their role in Europe’s common market, many domestic laws, including drug policies, have remained far apart. The Dutch have lobbied for their neighbors to follow them, while others, including France, want the Dutch to abolish their stand.In practice, holding a small cache of drugs is rarely punished in Western Europe, but the Dutch have been clearer about setting rules: the cannabis cafes can sell five grams per person of marijuana or hashish. Clients younger than 18, hard drugs and alcohol are forbidden. In Maastricht, half of the original 32 cafes have been shut down because of violations. Despite such clear rules, another basic problem lingers: the cafes are licensed to sell the drugs, but it is illegal to produce or transport their supplies.“It’s a crazy situation,” said Mr. Josemans, who owns another cafe besides the Smoky Boat and who is head of the local cannabis cafe owners’ association. “Every day I’m obliged to commit crimes because I have to stock up illegally. But at the same time I pay taxes on the sales.”“It’s all very hypocritical,” he said. “So I have delivery boys going back and forth, because I can keep only 500 grams in stock. A liquor store can keep a thousand liters and has quality control.”Mayor Leers, who says at heart he is a prohibitionist, and Mr. Josemans have at least this in common: both believe that as long as people can sell, they should be allowed to cultivate the plants. “Illegal growers use pesticides and fertilizer and make smoking more dangerous,” Mr. Josemans said.The mayor has asked the government to allow Maastricht to experiment with supervised, legal plantations to cut out the criminal groups. In speeches and articles, he has railed against the present policy. “Either you close this back door or you regulate it,” he argued in Parliament. “It’s like telling a baker that he can sell bread but he is not allowed to buy flour.”The impending plan to move out of town has been debated by the owners of other cafes, like the Blue Dream, Slow Motion and Wall Street; some of them see new opportunity. One has proposed buying the former customs office on the Dutch-Belgian border, a plan appreciated for its incongruity. Some old-timers see only risks in leaving the intimate atmosphere of the inner city. The owners of the paraphernalia shops — the downtown boutiques that sell water pipes, candles, rolling paper and other drug accessories — are said to be worried.Mr. Josemans said he would be one of the first to open an outlet along the highway near Belgium. “I’ve been in this trade for 25 years, and I’ll do it for a while longer,” he said. “I won’t recommend cannabis as a way of life, but it’s O.K. for recreation.”And, at least for now, it is still good for business. His new highway cafe will provide a reading room, snacks, fresh juice and an Internet corner.“I’ll take the risk,” he said. “I’m willing to modernize.” Complete Title: Cannabis Cafes Get Nudge to Fringes of a Dutch City Newshawk: WhigSource: New York Times (NY)Author: Marlise Simons Published: August 20, 2006Copyright: 2006 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite: Articles:Dutch Cannabis Policy Challenged Take Sober Look at Pot Laws's Bad Experience with Cannabis

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Comment #10 posted by Dankhank on August 20, 2006 at 16:48:43 PT
Cannabis Cup
Welcome Hemp World ...My son and I were judges of Cannabis Cup 9 in 1996...It was quite a time for us as we wandered Amsterdam, getting our money's worth out of the trampass.And roaming the city with a few grams of a few varieties in pocket, not a care about getting rousted.The first morning there we caught the tram from our hotel to downtown train station for the purpose of scoring two weekly passes for the trams. We convinced the tramstir to not charge us for the trip since we were going to get a weekly pass. We did exactly that and we were off. If you get on the wrong tram get off and cross the street, go back. With a weekly pass you could do that endlessly, if you had sampled too many strains ... :-)I left my beltpack at Schipol airport, so a couple of days later we did a rountrip to get it, 45 minutes each way on the train ... goes from the main train station to a lower level at the airport, painless save for the language.My son and I were each born in Bavaria, Europe was no stranger to either of us. It would be great to live in Europe again ... hmmmmmmmmmmmm
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Comment #9 posted by Celaya on August 20, 2006 at 14:00:44 PT
Wow! Thanks for joining us! This is terrific to get first-hand news from the Netherlands! The political situation sounds really complex there. Is there a political group of cannabis consumers? And do they have much power?
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Comment #8 posted by afterburner on August 20, 2006 at 12:30:07 PT
Sam Adams #4: who's complaining? 
Speaking of unsubstantiated rumors published as facts, check out this hate article about the closing of Hamilton Ontario's Up In Smoke Cafe:Activist agrees city should [actual quote: "could"] have ground out cafe
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Comment #7 posted by HempWorld on August 20, 2006 at 10:54:09 PT:

A Comment From A Dutchman On This Situation...
Hello, I am a Dutch man who became an ardent cannabis activist after going on vacation in my own country and be a judge on the High Times "Cannabis Cup" in 1995. I had no idea that I would be spending huge monies on lawyers in the US to fight my way into the us cannabis and hemp scene the following year, notably against the same company that runs High Times. How ironic, as if going to the cup after living 10 years in the US in my own country is not ironic enough.But anyway, I've also been involved with this situation in Maastricht and with Mr. Gerd Leers the pragmatic mayor of this very old city. The reason the problems exist are because of prohibition in the border area, because 4 countries borders come together at this location and because wholesale/supply is not (yet) legal. See Nuevo Laredo etc. etc. So take that O'reilly.Inevitably the problems will get bigger as a direct result of this semi-legalization and prohibition. We can 'send more troops' or we can do it legally without creating violence and undue taxpayer/society burden.However this choice is not up to us or complete legalization would have been instituted a long time ago, as it was not long ago, before 1912. The choice is in the hands of those who rule us (literally); the politicians and the police and they are reluctant to do the right thing because this would reduce their enormous power over us. So basically things will not change unless the system changes or if for some reason, we would have a lot of selfless politicians finally doing something for the greater good and thereby also surrendering a chunk of their powers.
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Comment #6 posted by whig on August 20, 2006 at 10:36:44 PT

I've heard similar stories about Eureka in California, that people come and can't afford to live there so they are homeless and there are supposedly a lot of panhandlers and street people. Anyhow basically it seems like the Ellis Island effect, or like it says on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." So then we have some tired, poor, huddled masses around and then people complain.
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Comment #5 posted by Celaya on August 20, 2006 at 09:35:17 PT

Sam Adams
It's probably true that the Netherland's cannabis consumers have become complacent about it. But they need to step back look at the bigger picture. That they are an island of relative tolerance in a sea of persecution that wants to swallow them up too. If I lived there, I'd be lobbying for complete legalization big time, and then work forever to fortify it against the world's madness.
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Comment #4 posted by Sam Adams on August 20, 2006 at 08:15:36 PT

who's compaining?
Celaya, thank your for saying what must be said: the obvious. Common sense.I think these whole "scare" articles are really just fabrications by a tiny minority of people, to create perception of a crisis. I'll bet the average person on the street doesn't give a hoot about the cannabis shops. I'll bet the average business owner in downtown loves the additional traffic. And of course, there are the thousands and thousands of satisfied customers that love being able to buy high-quality cannabis instead of drinking alcohol.Look who's arguing for more regs: police. A group who would love to revert back to prohibition, to see their budget and income explode. "Residents" have apparently complained about the shops, but none are quoted directly here. One wonders where this sentence came from. Has anyone surveyed or polled the residents? There is no factual basis in these statements whatsoever.

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Comment #3 posted by John Tyler on August 20, 2006 at 07:34:29 PT

it's the economy
Economics is somewhat like a democracy in that people vote for some product or service with their money. In Europe, it seems that people are voting for cannabis products in a very big way. The current crop of politicians should realize this and make the changes necessary to accommodate this new economic model or some other politicians will arise that will.  
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Comment #2 posted by Celaya on August 20, 2006 at 07:31:20 PT

"The Dutch brought on the problem themselves, he said: if there were no sales in Maastricht, the French and the Belgians would not go there to stock up."It would be same (probably worse) if the Netherlands were the only place that sold alcohol. The tunnel vision of prohibitionists is depressingly predictable.At least the writer seems to recognize the insane hypocrisy of the situation. Anyone with a grain of objectivity would simply look at it, realize marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and come to the logical conclusion for complete legalization. But, then we must add into the equation, all those millionaires who got that way from the profitable situation of persecuting innocent people.I've always wondered why cannabis consumers in the Netherlands don't get more poltically active, since they don't have the hammer of prohibition laws over their heads. 
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Comment #1 posted by Wayne on August 20, 2006 at 07:24:16 PT

the Dutch model
"Despite such clear rules, another basic problem lingers: the cafes are licensed to sell the drugs, but it is illegal to produce or transport their supplies. 'It’s a crazy situation,' said Mr. Josemans, who owns another cafe besides the Smoky Boat and who is head of the local cannabis cafe owners’ association. 'Every day I’m obliged to commit crimes because I have to stock up illegally. But at the same time I pay taxes on the sales.'"This is where O'Reilly and friends get their argument that the Dutch system has failed. They say, 'Oh look at all the problems they have with drug pushers running across borders.' It's because it's not 100% legal. It just doesn't make sense to say, 'it's legal to sell it', but then it's not legal to stock up on it. What's the point of legalizing sale then? And also, the fact that they're charging taxes for selling pot I think is an implicit acceptance of it. They've been doing this for 30 years, I think it's time for them to take the next step and say licensed sellers can grow certain amounts for sale. Maybe be allowed to keep 1 or 2 kilograms in stock, or some other amount depending on their volume. It would certainly clear up a lot of confusion and, similar to what was said, it will keep the pushers and dealers out of the cities.Of course the DEA would have a sh** fit. Which is probably why they haven't done it yet.

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