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A European Court Rules A Dutch City Can Ban Tourists From Coffee Houses


The Netherlands has long been an almost mythical Mecca for cannabis users the world over. However, in this small, liberal European country, cannabis remains a controlled substance (with large-scale dealing, production, importing and exporting prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law). On the flip side, the country’s gedoogbeleid, or tolerance policy, means that possession of up to five grams of cannabis for personal use and the cultivation of up to five plants are not prosecuted. More significantly for foreign visitors, the cultivation and sale of marijuana through the Netherlands’ roughly 700 cannabis-selling coffee shops is decriminalized. Even to cannabis connoisseurs in today’s decrim California, the allure of a place where people can publicly sit around enjoying some of the world’s finest, just as you might a beer or a coffee, is considerable, and many make a Netherlands pot pilgrimage at least once.

If you’ve been considering a trip to the Netherlands’ legendary coffee shops it might be the time to accelerate those plans. In December, the European Court of Justice ruled that the southern Dutch city of Maastricht was within its rights when it passed a 2005 law barring foreigners from cafes that sell marijuana (the owner of a coffee shop in that city had challenged the law). “That restriction is justified by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance,” the court said (the governments of the Netherlands’ neighbors–Belgium, Germany and France–have linked Dutch “drug tourism” to public order problems within their borders). This ruling means that other Dutch cities, or indeed the Netherlands on a national level, could outright ban foreigners from cannabis coffee shops.

Dutch cities that introduce a wietpas (“weed card”) would be gambling that the loss of revenue from canna-tourism would be more than offset by the reduction in social problems it causes and/or a boost in income from tourists who might otherwise have been discouraged from visiting the country because of its reputation as a marijuana destination. “It is possible that a decision to introduce the ‘weed card’ will reduce the number of foreign tourists who choose [capital city]Amsterdam or the Netherlands as a destination for a stay,” according to the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions. “But a less liberal policy might also attract new tourists.”

The potential impact of the European Court’s ruling on Dutch tourism is more nuanced than just numbers, says Altan Arsan, president of Artun Travel, Inc. in Chicago and a 25-year veteran of the travel business. “I believe that this ruling will have an impact on the number of tourists traveling to the Netherlands, but not so much of an impact on the tourism dollars going to the Netherlands. Tourists who are mainly traveling to Amsterdam or the Netherlands solely to smoke marijuana tend to be younger, college-aged travelers who do not spend much while on vacation. They do not stay in major hotels, they are mostly backpackers.”

While foreign visitors might interpret the introduction of the Dutch wietpas as intolerant, in reality the country’s history of gedoogbeleid will doubtless soften the impact of any further Maastricht-like legislation.

“I think that a small percentage of tourists may see this as discrimination. But knowing how loose the Dutch can be with their laws regarding ‘soft’ drugs and prostitution, I doubt that this law will be strictly enforced,” says Arsan. “I can see making tourists pay an extra fee to become a ‘member’ of a coffee shop to enter, but I do not foresee this law being enforced very strongly. I am nearly certain [that]there will be a loophole of some sort.”


Despite the Netherlands’ progressive attitudes toward cannabis (its tolerance policy prompts 3.66 million visitors annually), there are rules that Dutch coffee houses must follow. These include:

–Licensed coffee shops cannot sell alcohol.

–Advertising is not allowed.

–No sales to anyone under the age of 18.

–No shops within a radius of 250 meters of schools.

By Paul Rogers

Article Originally Published in Culture Magazine


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  1. The only reasonable way to handle “drug tourism” should consist in making cannabis legalized everywhere. It is a shame that European deciders introduce a law discriminating people from different european countries. All this for a plant which has been provably the target of lies, propaganda, and for which no genuine statistics have ever shown that it leads to any other problems than those related to its illegality. Prohibition is known today to benefit to the criminals only. It is unethical, immoral, and it leads to the corruption of democracies worldwide.

  2. erm i’m going to go to amsterdam in october….will i be able to have a smoke or look for some loopholes?

  3. A lot of tourists keep emailing me (I have several Amsterdam sites) asking whether they should cancel their next trip in 6 months time.

    The answer is “NO”, coffeeshops in Amsterdam are going to be around for a while yet.

    After this European court ruling, just days later the council in Maastricht voted against ever introducing a wietpas, showing how much they do not like the lobbyists or whoever is pushing the wietpas agenda.

    The mayor of Amsterdam has also said that they don’t see any relevancy to Amsterdam for a wietpas or anything similar.

    So don’t worry, everything will be fine for some time yet.

    Imagine if they introduced one in Amsterdam, immediately street dealers would flood the tourist areas once more. It has only been a few years since the city got “cleaned up” and the hard drug dealers fled. The last thing they want is for them to come back.

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