Dutch pot tourism ban hangs in the balance
Marijuana sold at a coffeeshop in Maastricht, the Netherlands. (Ermindo Armino/AP Photo)
The Dutch government’s plan to ban pot tourism in the southern Netherlands will no longer take effect on New Year’s Day. According to the justice ministry, the proposed legislation has been postponed and will now take effect in May 2012.
The government is seeking to amend the current law to prevent “coffee shops” from selling cannabis to foreigners by implementing the use of a “wietpas”, or weed pass, for which only residents would be eligible. The weed pass is expected to be introduced into the southern provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland on 1 May, and then to the rest of the country in 2013.
The use of marijuana has been tolerated under controlled conditions for more than 30 years in the Netherlands. An inbound tourism survey last year found that 14% of all tourists to the Netherlands head to coffee shops, with 30% of Spanish tourists, 19% of Italian tourists and 19% of American tourists paying a visit while on their holiday.
If the current law is amended, though, enforcement will be in the hands of the local governments, said Mario Lap, a drug policy advisor and the director of the Amsterdam-based Drugtext Foundation. “Coffee shops and their lawyers will go to the court at once when a town starts to introduce these new rules,” he explained, “meaning the mayor will be on trial defending these rules laid upon him.” Furthermore, he said, if a mayor did not wish to implement the weed pass system in the first place, it would be unlikely to be enforced.
It is not just the coffee shops that oppose this measure. According to the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, there has been considerable opposition from several major cities, including Amsterdam. As Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board spokeswoman Machteld Ligtvoet told CNN, “Amsterdam doesn't want it."
But in border cities in the provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, there are local officials and residents who support the introduction of a weed pass. These areas are known to attract German, Belgian and French residents who drive across the border for the sole purpose of buying marijuana.
If the card is introduced, said Susan Deerenberg, communications manager for the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, “NBTC will monitor its impact in association with relevant stakeholders. NBTC would greatly regret introduction of the card resulting in fewer tourists visiting the Netherlands.”
That said, the tourism board cannot be certain what effect restrictions on visitors would have on the tourism industry. “The introduction of the weed card might result in slightly fewer foreign tourists choosing Amsterdam or the Netherlands as a destination for a stay,” Deerenberg said. “On the other hand, a less liberal policy might actually attract new tourists among people who currently feel less inclined to visit Amsterdam or the Netherlands precisely because of the liberal image.”
The only thing that is clear is the effect that the new legislation would have on coffee shops themselves. If the plan to bar tourists from patronizing these businesses goes through, legal battles are likely to ensue, noted Lap. “This is all but done,” says Lap.