- Category: News-wietpas
- Created on Monday, 21 May 2012 08:22
- Written by Gordon Darroch
“I'm concerned that the real purpose of these rules is to strangle the life out of coffeeshops. Whether that happens in practice remains to be seen,” Marc Josemans told The Amsterdam Herald.
His Easy Going coffeeshop was closed by the city council last Friday for breaching the new rules. Josemans is going to court on June 5 to challenge the council’s authority to enforce them.
The new law has turned coffeeshops into private clubs whose members must have a permanent address in the Netherlands. Visitors are banned from the cafes as the government tries to cut down on the problem of drug tourism.
If the wietpas law prevails, Josemans fears it will spell the end of Dutch efforts to build an alternative to the ‘war on drugs’ strategy.
“It's very sad to see the way the Netherlands is going backwards in terms of setting an example to other countries,” says Josemans.
“Since 1976 we've had a policy of separating soft drugs and hard drugs so that the consumption of soft drugs is decriminalised and people haven't had to buy from street dealers.
“Now everybody who lives outside the Netherlands, including Dutch expats, has to buy their weed illegally on the street. What the minister is doing goes right against the rules. That's what we want the judge to clarify.
“It's also counter-productive symbolic politics, it won't have the desired effect.”
Josemans argues that the increasingly populist tone of political debate has turned people against the coffeeshop culture. “What we are seeing is the consequences of populism,” he says. “Geert Wilders has perfectly copied the moralising style of Pim Fortuyn.
“The Liberal party (VVD) used to be very tolerant, but they lost a lot of voters to the populists and wanted them back. That's why they have adopted this moralistic and religious attitude.
“They say drugs are bad for you, so they should be forbidden. A realistic policy would say drugs are bad for you, so we should create as many regulations as we can to reduce and control the dangers.
“For years we've had hardly any drugs deaths in the Netherlands, consumption is lower than the average and there's little experimentation among our young people.
“Countries like Belgium, France and Germany are becoming more and more tolerant towards drugs. In Spain they have cannabis clubs. We are the only country that is going in the opposite direction and joining the 'war on drugs', which we know creates far more victims than using cannabis.”
'Shifting the problem elsewhere'
In Maastricht the effects are already being felt. Josemans says hotel and restaurant bookings are down and local residents are complaining about an increase in drug dealing on the streets.
In the first two weeks since the wietpas regulations came in, 50 street dealers have been stopped by the police, a higher number than usual.
The city council the problem of street dealing has simply become more visible because the coffeeshops are closed. It also says the number of foreign visitors has visibly decreased since May 1.
Out of the 1.8 million people who visit the 14 coffeeshops in the Limburg capital, 1.7 million come from over the border, says Josemans. Starved of that custom, most, if not all, of them will simply go out of business.
He has claimed that three-quarters of Maastricht’s 440 coffeeshop staff will lose their jobs as a result of the new rules and the wider tourist trade, including hotels and restaurants, will be hit hard.
“All the council has done is shift the problem to places like Nijmegen, Arnhem and Cuijk,” says Josemans. “If the whole of the Netherlands turns the tourists away on January 1 there are going to be real problems.”
Josemans says the solution is to go in the opposite direction from the present government policy and create a legitimate drug supply chain, taking the means of production out of the hands of criminal gangs.
He is a member of the Taskforce Handhaving Cannabis (Task Force for the Regulation of Cannabis/THC), which produced a report last year detailing how a legal supply line would work.
Cannabis producers would be allowed to set up clubs, which would be registered with the chamber of commerce and have special dispensation to supply coffeeshops.
Legalisation would also allow the government to raise taxes on soft drugs, which the THC report estimates would be worth €850 million to the state coffers. Josemans believes this could be a clinching argument at a time of economic recession.
“Nearly half our politicians are against this policy,” he says. “If we take a turn to the left on September 12 things can change very quickly and we can influence left-wing parties across Europe.
“If one country can take the lead and show that it works, the others are sure to follow, especially during an economic crisis. Look at how much tax and duty is paid on tobacco and alcohol.
“Nobody is taking responsibility. Even the foreign governments are hypocritical about this. They're unhappy about what we're doing, but they don't want to take responsibility in their own countries.
“Our government says they should open their own coffeeshops. I agree with them on that.”
Despite the unfavourable political climate of the last few years, Josemans remains optimistic that the Netherlands can lead the way in international drugs policy. He cites a Dutch saying: “Once you get one sheep over the dam, the rest will follow by themselves.”