Europe: At Cannabis Summit, Dutch Mayors Try to Address "Backdoor Problem" of Coffee Shop Supply, Broader Status of Pot

Under existing Dutch policy, licensed marijuana coffee shops can sell their wares to consumers, but have no legal means of obtaining those wares. That snag in the cannabis supply system is known as the "backdoor problem:" Marijuana can legally exit the coffee houses via the front door, but must enter illegally through the backdoor. The backdoor problem has existed for years, but now things seem to be coming to a head.
downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
Dutch mayors meeting at a weekend "Cannabis Summit" are seeking to solve the backdoor problem, as well as address the conservative governing coalition's efforts to restrict or even shut down the famous coffee houses. The number of coffee shops has dwindled slowly but steadily under the conservative government, with more slated to be forced to close in the next two years. On Saturday, the leader of the governing Christian Democratic Party, Pieter van Geel, said all the coffee shops should be closed.

The summit was called by Maastricht Lord Mayor Gerd Leers last week after the city councils of Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom decided to shut down all the coffee shops because of problems associated with masses of pot-buying visitors from neighboring Belgium, France, and Germany, which lack regulated marijuana sales.

More than three-quarters of the 40 mayors in attendance agreed that marijuana should be grown under license for wholesale purchase by the coffee houses and, ultimately, retail sale to consumers. But while there is broad agreement on licensing grows, just how they would come about remains a matter of contention.

According to Dutch News, Eindhoven Mayor Rob van Gijzel and his city council are prepared to operate their own grow as a "monitored pilot scheme" to see if licensed growing reduces drug-related crime. The Tilburg city council said it wanted to start a "cannabis market garden" to supply local shops.

But Amsterdam Lord Mayor Job Cohen told London's Telegraph newspaper that while he was in "full support" of the coffee shop system, Eindhoven's plan to involve the city council in marijuana growing was going "a little too far." Instead, he said he would prefer to see licensed private growers closely monitored by the police.

"While I don't agree with the idea of councilors actually growing cannabis in plots near their town halls, a positive development has been that our government has now said it will take a close look at the issue of where the cannabis should come from. We could see the problem of the two doors -- legal front door for customers, illegal back door for supplies -- being resolved soon."

In fact, said Cohen, the entire trade should just be legalized. "Look what happened during prohibition years in America and how criminals took over and look at Belgium, France and Britain where soft drugs are not legal but are available and are a part of the criminal world," he said. "We can't avoid them, so it is better to legalize them to keep them under control."

On Sunday, Health Minister Ab Klink somewhat surprisingly said that while the licensed grow plan in Eindhoven would conflict with the policy of the conservative ruling coalition, he was prepared to look closely at the plan and discuss it with the rest of the cabinet. While the Christian Democrats and Christian Unity parties are opposed to legal production for the coffee shops, the coalition's Labor Party has called for parliamentary debate on the issue.

The forces of drug reform are mobilizing, too. The Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation, the European umbrella reform group ENCOD, and Amsterdam's Cannabis College have organized the first Netherlands Cannabis Tribunal in the Hague on Monday and Tuesday. A centerpiece event should be the planned debate between Christian Democratic Party spokesperson Cisca Joldersma, and Hans van Duijn, LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition} member and former president of the Dutch Police Association.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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