Access to Maastricht cannabis cafes to be limited: owners

5th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Smoking a joint in Maastricht's coffee shops is to be reserved for Dutch, Belgian and German customers from October in a bid to cut problems associated with drug tourism, owners said Friday.

"The authorities have signalled that the coffee shops will be shut if the problems do not ease," said Marc Josemans, president of the Maastricht Association of Coffee Shops.

About 1.4 million foreigners visit the city's 14 coffee shops every year, more than half of them Belgian, followed by the French and Germans.

They have been blamed for traffic jams, nocturnal disturbances, and attracting drug pushers to Maastricht's streets.

"Yet an investigation has shown that customers from bordering countries tend to use public transport and therefore cause little or no traffic problems," said Joseman, owner of the "Easy Going" coffee shop.

By banning access to the French, Spanish, Italian and Luxemburgers, authorities hope to cut the associated problems by a fifth.

The city council has denied threatening to close the coffee shops however, saying it had planned to relocate some of the cafes out of the centre from 2013.

The Dutch government is currently working on the introduction of a "cannabis card" reserved for nationals and obligatory when visiting one of the country's 670 licenced coffee shops.

Justice ministry spokesman Jean Fransman said last month's ruling by the Dutch Council of State -- the country's highest administrative court which also advises the government on legal issues -- that the "residence criteria" did not contradict Dutch law offered the possibility of introducing such a card.

The European Court of Justice ruled in December that banning foreigners was justified "by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance".

Though technically illegal, the Netherlands 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 (a little over one pound) of the soft drug at any given time.

© 2011 AFP

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