"Close soft drug shops in Maastricht"
Flemish municipalities are concerned about the impact of the closure of coffee shops in Netherlands.
30 October 2008)
The closure of coffee shops elsewhere in the Netherlands has triggered fears in the Belgian province of Limburg that drug tourists will now flock to the Dutch town of Maastricht. Flemish municipalities are concerned about the impact this move will have on them.
Buster is the first sniffer dog who has been recruited for a local police force in Flanders. The dog will have the job of checking the vehicles of people who go to the Dutch town of Maastricht to buy drugs.
Bilzen municipality in Limburg has witnessed a lot of trouble as a result of drug tourism.
Police officer Dirk Claes explains there are break-ins in cars and thefts. "People need money to buy drugs. Sometimes they come from as far afield as France."
Last week two Dutch municipalities announced they were closing coffee shops where hashish is sold legally.
The worry now is that the drugs trade will concentrate on Maastricht. Nearby Belgian Limburg province fears the ramifications.
"Government action needed"
The Flemish burgomaster of Bilzen, Johan Sauwens, is demanding that Maastricht too closes its coffee shops as soon as possible. "We need to call a halt to this escalation of drug runners and the problems that affect the entire border area."
Maastricht wants to move its coffee shops out of the city centre and towards the Belgian border. Flemish municipalities say there has been enough talking and are now demanding action.
Mr Sauwens concedes that the local authorities can no longer cope with the problem: “If Maastricht fails to act then the Belgian Government should take the issue up with its Dutch counterpart with a view to ending toleration of drug use and sales.”