Cannabis 'scratch and sniff cards' issued to Dutch citizens
In a novel bid to combat illegal cannabis cultivation, Dutch authorities started handing out 30,000 cards with a marijuana odour Monday to alert citizens to what their neighbours may be up to.
"Citizens must be alerted to the dangers they face as a result of these plantations, and if they become aware of any suspect situations they must report them," Arnie Loos, spokesman for a government-appointed working group on cannabis cultivation, told journalists in the port city of Rotterdam.
Though it remains technically illegal, the Netherlands decriminalised the consumption and possession of under five grammes (0.18 ounces) of cannabis in 1976 under a "tolerance" policy.
Authorities turn a blind eye to citizens growing no more than five plants for personal use. Bulk cannabis cultivation and retail remain illegal and are in the hands of criminal organisations in a black-market business worth some two billion euros (2.8 billion dollars) annually.
"Assist in combatting cannabis plantations!" reads the green scratch-card of about 20 centimetres by 10 (eight inches by four) being distributed to residents of the western cities of The Hague and Rotterdam.
With two boxes that release a cannabis odour when scratched, the card also lists a police telephone number.
On the back are listed other indicators of possible urban cannabis cultivation: the sound of ventilators, curtains that are kept closed, suspicious connections to electricity supply points, and of course ... the smell.
Organisers said the project, a pilot for possible expansion, was a first for the Netherlands.
"If people do in fact call the number listed on the card, we could make this a national operation," Loos told journalists, standing in the middle of about 200 plants of what he called "green gold" in the attic of an apartment building in Rotterdam.
"One plant yields 50 grammes of cannabis five times per year. One kilogramme sells for 3,500 euros. This plantation could earn more than 100,000 euros per year," Loos told AFP.
The walls of the room that contained the plantation were covered in aluminium foil used as an insulator to keep the temperature at the 27 degrees Celsius necessary for cannabis cultivation. Electric cables fed lamps that heated the plants from underneath, near to a tank filled with water.
"When one messes with electricity connections, one risks electrocution, fire," said Jeroen de Swart, director of gas and electricity distribution company Stedin that is a partner in the awareness-raising project.
Authorities believe there are some 40,000 illegal cannabis plantations in the Netherlands -- hidden away in attics, apartments or warehouses.
About 6,000 plantations are busted every year.
Of these about 300, each with between 600 and 1,000 plants, were uncovered in Rotterdam alone, said Richard Anderiesse, a spokesman for the city's cannabis task force.
© 2010 AFP