Smoking out tourists? 

Closing off access to coffee shops in the name of 'combating drug tourism'

The Dutch government's current attempt to restructure Holland's permissive cannabis culture and cripple the thriving cannabis industry continues to baffle local and international observers. The idea — which the courts and other outposts of the establishment are grappling with — is to limit licit marijuana smoking to Dutch citizens and official residents of the Netherlands.

A recent court ruling may have slowed down the process when the Council of State determined that cities can't regulate marijuana sales, as reported in The International Herald Tribune, because "national law already theoretically bans selling marijuana," implying that "the government must change the law in order to bar foreigners, rather than simply amending policy."

However, according to local news source DutchNews.nl, quoting an official court statement, "the judgment does not mean the mayor has no further statutory scope for taking measures against coffee shops that he believes cause nuisance problems. ... Under the Opium Act itself, the mayor may impose an enforcement order against coffee shops selling narcotics."

In response to the court action, the Netherlands justice ministry "has concluded that the ruling clears the way for the government to turn coffee shops into members-only clubs open only to people who officially live in the Netherlands," DutchNews.nl reported. "It is clear that European law allows foreigners to be excluded from coffee shops, but this will have to be implemented via a different legal mechanism" which "will be solved quickly," a justice ministry spokesman told news agency ANP.

With respect to the European statutes, the European Court of Justice said last December that the city of Maastricht at the center of the Dutch controversy is not breaking European law by attempting to stop nonresidents buying cannabis products. Restricting sales, the court said, is "justified by the objective of combating drug tourism and reducing public nuisance [as long as] the aim of the restriction is to maintain public order and protect public health."

The Dutch news media draws its own conclusion: "Cannabis cafe tourist ban can go ahead, says supreme court." This seems generally to be the official line on the issue in the Netherlands, and some participants in the coffee shop industry have accepted the supposed inevitability of the proposed changes and are presently pondering the problems involved with transforming themselves into private clubs bereft of their traditionally international clientele.

But many longtime activists continue to scoff at the possibility that tourists and other visitors to the Netherlands will soon be barred from entering premises where marijuana and hashish are legally sold. The concerted official attack on what they call "drug tourism" is widely considered an impossible dream that may well turn into a public nightmare if the right-wing governing coalition secures enough votes for passage of the new restrictive laws.

The general view seems to be that the authorities will have a difficult time establishing that "drug tourism" presents a "public nuisance" that must be suppressed through these draconian means, particularly when the obvious public nuisance is presented by mobs of rowdy tourists noising through the streets of the Centrum and the Red Light District powered by the conspicuous consumption of massive quantities of alcohol.

There is also widespread incredulity that the historically enterprising Dutch populace could even consider, let alone authorize, any legislation that would deprive the business community — and, by extension, the public coffers — of millions of euros now realized from cannabis sales to persons of all nationalities.

In fact, most intelligent observers wonder why the cannabis industry is not fully legalized, with production and distribution of cannabis treated like any other local produce and the proceeds counted as part of the national economy. The businesses and their work force would also contribute untold millions to the tax base as well. But it's not logic that's driving the anti-cannabis forces, although it's difficult to ascertain what exactly their reasoning is. As an American, I'm pretty much used to this idiocy, since my own government has waged its War on Drugs without restraint for almost a half-century with no reasonable result.

Drugs are clearly winning the War on Drugs, no matter what extreme measures may be taken to prevent their availability and recreational use, and if one calls the establishment of a police state apparatus a positive social good, then that's your one positive outcome.

Happily, the police state approach has begun to attract serious criticism from ever more distinguished observers, like the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a 19-member panel chaired by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso; the commission concluded that the failure of the war on drugs has brought "devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

"The international war on drugs is a massive failure," the Global Commission determined, "and nations should begin experimenting with progressive drug policies, including legalization." The Commission recommends experimentation with models of legal drug regulation, particularly cannabis, and notes that "decriminalization does not lead to significant increases in drug use."

The Global Commission, which includes former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, strongly recommends fiscally responsible drug policies that are backed by science rather than ideology.

"For too long," as Yolande Cadore of the Drug Policy Alliance argues in an impassioned AlterNet editorial on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Nixon's declaration of the War on Drugs, "our drug policy has been framed in the nervous and reactionary language of Richard Nixon and his successors, allowing policy makers to craft ineffectual yet politically convenient laws.

"As it becomes clearer and clearer that this war cannot be won, they are left in a compromising position — in complete acquiescence to those preaching law, order and punishment, yet morally obligated to mitigate some of the suffering caused by their own failed policies."

I'd like to cite a couple of further passages from Cadore's essay because, well, I couldn't have said it better myself:

"They must acknowledge that we will never have a 'drug-free' America. There has never been and will never be a drug-free society. The only realistic expectation is for those who use drugs do so responsibly. Unless our drug policy reflects this expectation, we will continue to waste both money and human potential. ...

"Close to $1 trillion has been allocated to fight the drug war that could have gone toward repairing our tattered social safety net. ...

"In order to realize a truly just society, we will need to re-frame the debate. We will need to call out the War on Drugs for what it really is — a war on families and communities."

Amen! People, let's stop the War on Drugs — and start paying reparations to the victims.

A last word: The anti-cannabis attack by the Dutch government is outweighed in ignorance and backwardness by two other current government initiatives: banning the ritual slaughter of animals as practiced for centuries by Jews and Muslims under the rubrics kosher and halal (passed 116-30 in the lower house of the Dutch parliament), and banning the wearing of the burka by observant Muslims as "against Dutch norms and manners," according to home affairs minister Piet Hein Donner.

What sort of toxic substance are these people smoking?

—London

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