No Dutch cannabis for foreigners, says EU court
Europe's top court ruled Friday that Dutch authorities can bar foreigners from cannabis cafes, upholding a border town's restriction as a justified measure to combat drug tourism.
Inundated by foreign visitors, the town of Maastricht, near the Belgian and German borders, imposed a new law in 2005 to prohibit marijunana-selling "coffee shops" from admitting people who do not reside in the Netherlands.
Maastricht's 14 pot cafes attract around 10,000 visitors every day, or 3.9 million a year, and 70 percent of them are not from the Netherlands, according to town data cited by the European Court of Justice.
The town's restrictions comply with European Union law despite the 27-nation bloc's freedom of movement regulations, the Luxembourg-based court ruled.
"That restriction is justified by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance," the court said, adding that it is a concern for the public order and health of citizens in all EU states.
The mayor of Maastricht temporarily closed the Easy Going coffee shop in September 2006 after it admitted two non-residents.
The owner of the establishment, Marc Josemans, challenged the decision and argued that the legislation represented an unjustified, unequal treatment of EU citizens, the court said.
He also stated that the law, in contradiction with EU laws, denies non-residents the possibility of buying non-alcoholic drinks and food in coffee shops.
But the top court ruled that a coffee shop owner could not rely on the EU's freedom of movement and non-discrimination principles to market cannabis.
The governments of Belgium, Germany and France have linked drug tourism to "public order problems," including the illegal export of marijuana, in their own countries, the court noted.
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.
There are about 700 licenced coffee shops in the country.
© 2010 AFP