Dutch city to move three cannabis cafes to outskirts
The southern Dutch city of Maastricht decided Tuesday to move three of its popular cannabis cafes to the outskirts in a bid to cut problems with drug tourism, a city official said.
"It was decided this evening after a meeting that three coffee shops will move from the city centre to the outskirts in the south," Gertjan Bos, spokesman for Maastrict mayor Onno Hoes, told AFP.
Yearly, some two million visitors frequent the city's 14 coffee shops, many of them from across the nearby borders with Belgium and Germany, bringing in an estimated 250 million euro ($339 million dollars) in revenue, Bos said.
But the influx of drug tourists has placed a major strain on the city's 120,000 residents with frequent traffic jams, nocturnal disturbances and an increase in aggressive drug pushers harassing tourists.
Bos said a deal was reached with owners of three coffee shops, the "Smokey", "Mississippi" and "Missouri", to move about three kilometres (1.8 miles) outside the city centre to establish a "coffee corner" catering for foreign tourists.
Marc Josemans, president of the Maastricht Association of Coffee Shops, said his association was happy with the deal, which however would only take effect in 2013. "It shows that we can find creative ways of dealing with the problem," he said. Four other coffee shops are to follow in the future, he said.
On 1 October however, coffee shop operators will be imposing a ban on lighting a joint in their shops unless patrons can prove they were from the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany in an attempt by owners to reduce problems.
"All other nationalities will unfortunately not be allowed in," Josemans said.
"We do not want to do it, but authorities have indicated they will close down the coffee shops if problems did not stop," he said.
Though technically illegal, the Netherlands have decriminalised the possession of less than five grammes (0.18 ounce) of cannabis in 1976 under a so-called "tolerance" policy.
Coffee shops are currently permitted to stock no more than 500 grammes (little over one pound) of the soft drug at any given time.
© 2011 AFP