Pro-pot Dutch pin smoke hopes on election outcome
Amsterdam's pot smokers cast a keen, if somewhat hazy eye on Wednesday's election, hoping for a government that will reverse plans to register them in a database and ban sales to foreigners.
"You have to go out and vote, vote for any left-wing party, it doesn't matter who, because they are against the weed-pass," a weedtress who asked not to be named said as she measured out a bag of crumbly brown hash to a client at the "Tweede Kamer" coffee shop.
Situated in the heart of Amsterdam's central business district, the Tweede Kamer ironically has the same name as the parliament's lower house, for which more than 12 million voters are eligible to cast their votes on Wednesday.
Apart from its usual decor of heavy wooden panelling, dope paraphernalia, a biscuit tin with the faces of Dutch crown prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Maxima, the shop has taken on a decidedly political tone for the day.
A large poster that says "I vote cannabis-friendly" with a list of the Dutch parties that oppose the weed-pass law shares the wall with an orange poster of an enlarged stamp showing the late Dutch queen Wilhelmina blowing smoke rings.
As mainstream politicians canvassed vigorously for votes in the tight vote, an equally intense alternative campaign has been waged the last few weeks to get Dutch smokers to go out and make their mark for pot-friendly parties.
Since mid-August, Dutch pro-pot supporters have been driving around the country in an old American school bus, calling for votes in an aptly-named "cannabus campaign."
Leftist parties including the front-running Labour Party (PvdA) have said they would replace the current legislation with more marijuana-friendly policies should they be voted into power.
The so-called "cannabis card" law came into effect on May 1 which effectively transforms coffee shops in the country's south into private clubs, requiring them to sell cannabis only to registered members who are Netherlands' residents and to stop selling to foreigners.
The law's coverage widens nationwide to include some 670 coffee shops across the Netherlands by January 2013.
The law is aimed at curbing drug-tourism related phenomena like late-night revelry, traffic jams and hard drug dealing, but detractors say it has simply pushed drug peddling onto the streets and led to a rise in criminality.
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.
"I'm not saying for whom, but I voted strategically," a 50-year-old man who identified himself as "Mr X" told AFP at the Dutch Flowers cannabis cafe across the road from the Tweede Kamer.
"I think if Labour wins, government will reverse the law," he added as he exhaled a steady stream of blue-tinted smoke.
"I think a lot of young voters will cast ballots on the cannabis issue," added 35-year-old "Anna", sitting underneath an iconic "Uncle Sam" poster adorned with psychedelic dope leaves and a message that read: "Vote against the weed-pass, and for your joint!"
"It has certainly influenced the way I voted," said 40-year-old Rijn, who runs the "Oerwoud" (Jungle) coffee shop in Amsterdam's famed red-light district.
Many coffee shop patrons said they were worried that if the cannabis-card were introduced in the capital -- a move also frowned upon by Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan -- locals would be forced to give their personal details while a large number of the around 12.2 million tourists who visit Amsterdam every year would be scared away.
As the day went on however, some smokers seemed to have lost the momentum to go and vote.
"Nobody's talking politics here," 40-year-old Myra, who works at the red-light district's Stone's Cafe told AFP.
"They're all too stoned," she said laughing.
© 2012 AFP