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Smoking a "joint",
Dense smoke and a slightly sweet smell are in the air in the De Molen "coffee shop", home to a porcelain Buddha with a "joint" in its hand that sits in a corner next to the bar.
the Moby Dick, Hengelo.
Photo: Friso Gentsch.
The De Molen is not there to serve coffee, but drugs. In the Dutch city of Enschede, located only a few kilometres west of the German border, soft drugs such as hashish and marijuana are sold openly, attracting drug tourists mainly from Germany.
But the boundlessly liberal drug policy in the Netherlands is on the ropes, and many coffee shops have already had to close.
In Enschede, which counts about 155,000 residents, the number of shops fell from 17 in 1999 to 9 in 2007. The cities of Maastricht and Arnheim also reported decreases.
"Many Germans come to visit Enschede just because of our coffee shops - that is a fact," says Enschede city spokesman Michael Haase.
This becomes obvious when once takes a look at the location of these shops.
"Three hundred metres beyond the border crossing is the first coffee shop," says Franziskus Siegers, head of the drug counselling centre in the German border town of Gronau in the state of North Rhine Westphalia.
This situation however does not serve the interests of the town councils and the Dutch government.
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a brochure complaining that shops located along the border that are visited by drug tourists "frequently" lead to trouble.
Haase also knows of cases where passers-by have been harassed in Enschede.
This is why the number of coffee shops had to be reduced. Since 1999 Dutch local politicians have had the right to shut down shops even if there were no reports of trouble or disturbances.
"As far as the drug policy is concerned, there is a consensus amongst all political parties," Haase says.
Christoph Boenig, spokesman of cross-border network Euregio, confirms this, saying "Dutch local politicians have watched the drug tourism critically and have tightened the reins."
This development is reflected in the decreasing number of Dutch coffee shops, which, according to a study of the Utrecht Trimbos- Institute, has been reduced from 1,179 in 1997 to 737 in 2004.
De Molen coffee shop has so far survived the wave of closures and currently sells seven varieties of marijuana.
The cheapest is called "Ketama," 0.8 grams are available for 5 euros (about 7 dollars). "You can choose from many different flavours and strengths," a saleswoman explains.
Fifty customers are normally served in the shop per day, the number rising to 100 on public holidays, with the number of Germans and Dutch about equal.
Each customer is allowed to buy up to five grams of soft drugs including the cannabis products marijuana and hashish. Coffee shops may keep a maximum of 500 grams in stock.
But as their effectiveness has increased over the past years, the term "soft drugs" is misleading. The content of tetrahydrocannabinol in the cannabis is critical, "having risen from 10 to up to 25 per cent," says Heinrich Rabe, head of the customs authority in the German city of Nordhorn, just across the border from Enschede.
In addition, the drugs are diluted with other chemicals, leading to potentially dangerous mixtures. "Sometimes even rat poison is added," Ulrich Schulze of the customs investigation in Essen, Germany, says.
None of these problems seem to have had an impact on De Molen. As the shop gets busier towards the end of the work day, the saleswoman passes to customers one after another little bags imprinted with cannabis plants.
A reduction in the number of coffee shops has not necessarily resulted in a decrease in drug consumption and drug tourism.
A legal curiosity has also survived the change of policy. Shops are barred from transporting drugs to their stores. "How the stuff gets there remains a mystery," customs officer Schulze says.
Smoking a "joint",
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