For the past three decades, Amsterdam has been Mecca for marijuana connoisseurs and advocates of regulated cannabis sales and use. Since 1975, the Dutch government has pragmatically allowed so-called coffee shops to sell marijuana to adults even though Dutch law continues to make cannabis sales illegal. But that may be changing -- or it may not.
The conservative Dutch government of Prime Minister Jan Van Balkenende was congratulated last week by the International Narcotics Control Board for making a "crucial and significant change in its policy on cannabis." The Dutch government has promised to crack down on marijuana tourism, street dealing, pot growing, and the coffee shops, the United Nations anti-drug agency noted in its annual report. "The Dutch government notes that coffee shops may discredit the drug policy of the country in general."
"They now say for the first time that cannabis is not harmless and that coffee shops are not blameless," said INCB head Hamid Ghodse.
According to the British newspaper the Independent, citing a "leading drug specialist" and a "government advisor," coffee shops in Holland could be extinct within five years. The number of coffee shops has already declined by half, down from a peak of 1,500 to only 750 now.
The conservative Dutch government has already introduced a pilot project in Limburg that bans foreigners from buying cannabis in coffee shops. Belgians and Germans have flocked to the border region for years to score good weed before returning to their own, more repressive, countries. Similarly, the Independent reported, the government is studying strong varieties of cannabis, which could well result in their being banned. Also, the police are cracking down on home growers.
"The changes have been brought about by the influence of the Yankees, the United States, Brussels and the European Union," said August de Loor, an independent drug policy advisor to the government. "The Dutch approach is usually very pragmatic, but in the past four years things have started to change and there is a more conservative approach. The control of coffee shops has become much more strict. The police are checking up on them more and there is much more strict interpretation of the rules. More and more mayors are banning coffee shops from their cities. I think in four or five years' time there will be no more coffee shops left in Holland," he predicted. "We have a conservative government at the moment but it's nothing to do with the left or right. It's a moral thing. It's a sign of the times."
Not all observers think this is the beginning of the end for Holland's coffee shops by any means. But the Dutch government continues to tighten the screws.