Fan violence at European soccer matches, with its toll of hundreds dead and thousands injured or arrested in the past decade, has for years worried European authorities. Governments across the continent have resorted to increasingly repressive measures to prevent soccer "hooliganism," as the European press refers to it, including maintaining and sharing hooligan databases, imposing travel bans on known troublemakers, deploying riot police in massive numbers, and employing ubiquitous video surveillance of stadiums and their surroundings.
The Dutch hosts for last weekend's Euro 2000 soccer tournament tried a new tack. In contrast to their tight restrictions on alcohol sales, Dutch authorities placed no limitations on the country's famous coffee shops, where high-potency marijuana is openly sold and consumed. In fact, authorities in Amsterdam granted special permits to some coffee shops, allowing them to stay open past their usual 1:00am closing times, the Guardian (England) reported last week.
The unusual move came at the initiative of Amsterdam coffee shop owners, who feared that, like hundreds of bars in the city, they would be forced to close their doors because of the threat of fan violence. Representatives of the coffee shops opened a dialogue with local and national officials. In negotiations with the Dutch government, marijuana sellers and growers argued that keeping the shops open and encouraging fans to visit them would increase the prospects for a peaceful tournament.
Dutch authorities eventually agreed. "Fortunately, we have made them see sense," Roland Dam, founder of the Cannabis College, an Amsterdam marijuana information center, told the Guardian. "There is always less trouble when cannabis is involved. Have you ever heard of anyone smoking a joint and then starting a riot? Keeping the coffee shops open is good news for the city and the tournament as a whole," he added.
The relaxed attitude was not limited to cosmopolitan Amsterdam. In Eindhoven, where England played Portugal on June 12, the mayor gave the go-ahead for the town's 10 coffee shops to stay open. A city spokesman told the London Daily Telegraph, "We are not worried about the use of cannabis. We hope people who come to the city and are curious about its effects will take it in an informed way."
That attitude stands in marked contrast to the town's restriction's on alcohol during the tournament. Eindhoven authorities insisted on serving only watered-down beer in plastic cups to the dreaded English.
Post-match reports from Eindhoven, where the worrisome British fans saw their team lose to Portugal 3-2, paint the strategy as a success. Ticketless fans in Eindhoven's coffeeshops reacted with "mild disappointment and gentle applause," according to the Eindhoven police. "The cannabis may have helped relax them," a police spokesman told the BBC. Arrest figures in Eindhoven tend to support that claim. Only five arrests were made, all prior to the match, and three of them for ticket scalping.
With the cannabis-friendly approach to Euro 2000 now deemed a success by the Dutch, marijuana supporters elsewhere are bound to use it as ammunition in their struggles. The BBC has already reported that British pro-cannabis activists are seizing upon Dutch experience to suggest that British authorities should take a similar approach to the drug.