Court orders partial pay-back for Dutch cannabis cafes
Cannabis cafes in the southern Netherlands must be partially compensated for losses after the introduction of a controversial marijuana law last year to register local smokers and ban sales to foreigners, a Dutch court ruled Wednesday.
The so-called "cannabis card" law was introduced on May 1 last year in three southern provinces and effectively aimed at transforming coffee shops into private clubs, requiring them to only sell cannabis to registered members who are Dutch residents and to stop all sales to foreigners.
The law's introduction aimed at addressing the downsides of drug tourism -- traffic jams, street dealing and rowdy late-night partying.
"Part of the cannabis card law has disproportionately infringed the interests of coffee shop clients, leading to financial losses during several months," The Hague District Court ruled on Wednesday.
"Clients have been scared away," the court added, referring to Dutch smokers who would have been put off from visiting coffee shops because they were required to give their names and identities.
The court however upheld the sales ban to foreigners and said if that part of the law was simply applied it would have had the desired effect in bringing down problems associated with cross-border drug tourism in the southern Netherlands.
Therefore, the "state now have to compensate a number of coffee shops" in the provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland, the court ruled, saying exact numbers are to be calculated at a later stage.
The Dutch association of retail cannabis traders and a number of coffee shops took the government to court in September last year to ask judges to declare the ban on cannabis sales to foreigners illegal, association spokesman Michael Veling told AFP.
"Compensation is a good thing, but (in this case) it's rather limited because traders won't be repaid for drinks they haven't sold and that kind of thing," Veling added.
A new, more leftwing government in November shelved the cannabis-card law, but said that individual city authorities could still decide whether to apply the law affecting some 650 establishments nationwide, according to their economic or social priorities.
Most Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, said they did not want to apply the law, while Maastricht and other southern cities said they would do so, leading to a stand-off between coffee shops and local authorities.
Dutch Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said the State would appeal Wednesday's judgement, Dutch news agency ANP reported.
Although cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, the country in 1976 decriminalised possession of less than five grammes (around a sixth of an ounce) of the substance.
© 2013 AFP