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Europe: Dutch Plan to Reduce Amsterdam Coffee Shop Numbers in Bid to Clean Up City Center

The Amsterdam City Council is considering and is expected to pass an urban renewal measure that will lead to the shuttering of one-third of the cannabis coffee shop in the city's famous Red Light district. Known as the Coalition Project 1012, after the postal code for central Amsterdam, the plan is designed to re-purpose and clean up the city's entryway around Dam Square and the Centraal Station.
The Bulldog coffee shop (courtesy
The project aims to combat the "general degradation" of the area, break up organized crime groups, and diminish the size and concentration of "criminogenic" activities -- those which generate crime. The famous coffee houses are targeted not because they are violating laws, but because supplying them with the merchandise has evolved into a task that is now handled primarily by organized crime groupings.

That, in turn, is a consequence of the incomplete nature of the Dutch's "gedogen" (pragmatic tolerance) approach to marijuana sales. While the Dutch tolerate the formally illegal sales of small amounts of marijuana at the coffee houses, there is no provision for supplying them. The Dutch tolerate the personal growing of up to five plants, but with the amount of cannabis consumed in the coffee house market, it would take an army of personal growers to supply them. As a result, and also because of tough enforcement of the personal grow laws, the provision of cannabis to the coffee houses has become the purview of organized crime.

Amsterdam currently has 226 coffee shops, 141 of them in the Centrum district, and 76 of them in the 1012 postal code including the Red Light district. Under the plan, the 76 Red Light district coffee shops will be reduced to 50 and the number city-wide to 192. The shops that must close will be given one three-year extension by this fall, and then must go out of business. Another dozen coffee shops may have to close because they are too close to schools.

The number of Amsterdam coffee shops peaked at 350 in 1997 and has been in decline since then. Some have been closed for violating the regulations surrounding them. But municipal authorities for the past decade have also been applying a "die-off" policy in areas where they think the concentrations are too high. In those areas, if a coffee shop goes out of business for any reason, the permit is withdrawn and cannot go to a new owner or operator.

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Dutch mistakes

You know that the Dutch had the right idea, they just didn't take it far enough. You have to make everything legal and the first step is to make sure that you have a legal supply of product that is not controled by the Black Market. If you don't have it set up to get pure quality "drugs" to the consumer through legitimate stores that are set up for this purpose, then you can't eliminate the black market side of it and it will turn into the kind of problems that the Dutch are having. The idea is to get stuff to the people that want it in a manner that is safe. If these drugs were grown, processed, and delivered as a legitimate system that allows everyone along the line to make a legal profit then you would be able to get rid of the black market and probably street gangs too, because they would have no more power in selling street drugs. I guess paying 10% of what the cost of street drugs are and the fact that we could let 50% of the prisoners out to return to society as productive citizens makes no sense? And don't forget abut the fact that we would be able to give healthcare to everyone that needs it too. There is just no common sense reason not to legalize marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Oh, and another bonus of this is that it would eliminate synthetic speed ( crank ). Thank you for letting me express my opinions.

Typically Dutch

I lived in Holland from 1994 through 1995 and obviously while my perspective is that of an outsider (I'm an American), my impression is that the half-assed system they had where there was no provision for legally supplying a coffee shop owner with the cannabis he or she could (quasi) legally sell worked pretty well. I'm not convinced there was some huge involvement of nefarious underground organized crime types making up the supply side. Mostly I saw hippie types who had their own small-scale grow operations and a fairly tight association with a coffee shop owner.

I never quite understood how the very excellent hash made it into town because obviously that was crossing international borders (quite a few of them I would assume). But again, I witnessed supply transactions and there never seemed to be any underworld types about; again mostly hippies.

Obviously, I had only a very limited view into this world, but my impression is that as the Dutch government has become more conservative, all of a sudden, there is is this new problem with "Underworld involvement in the soft-drugs trade". It's just an excuse for them to crack down using fear as a lever.

This does reinforce the previous poster's comments about the problems of the Dutch only going halfway with their solution, but part of the problem is that there used to be more of a Dutch attitude of pragmatism that seems to be going away. It's a shame really.

Real Dutch people out there, I'd love to hear your impressions and thoughts on this matter. It's highly possible that I'm overly romanticizing the way things used to work before the Dutch politicians realized how to get some political leverage out of the whole situation.

Amsterdam coffeeshops not in danger

This plan is about 1 postal code in the city, comprising about 1 square KM.

It has nothing to do with the policy nation wide nor city wide.

Most coffeeshops (200+)are NOT LOCATED WITHIN THIS AREA.

Further, even I, a long time resident of Amsterdam and cannabis fan who has seen the Red Light District go through several changes, all for the better, noticed that there are quite a few new coffeeshops in and around the Nieuwmarkt, which makes up the eastern edge of the Red light district.

Further, the residents of this area, and the red light district is a neighborhood where people live, study and work in other than the sex industry, oppose this plan. Further, there is nothing in this plan which prevents coffeeshops from relocating, and the very same Mayor has complained that a LACK of coffeeshops in certain areas of the city is just as big a problem as too many.

So there is no real threat to the coffeeshop experience in Amsterdam. Remember, there were in 1986 around 800 of them. Now that number is 240, and it's still the same place.

Also, things change Very Slowly in the Netherlands, and there will be myriad lawsuits to prevent the execution of plan 1012, just as a lawsuit has this week effectively stuck down the country's recently imposed anti-smoking law in public places including bars, coffeeshops and cafes.This policy promised to, and did, punish those who dared roll cannabis and tobacco together and, afterward, smoking it inside that coffeeshop.

In 1996, many news outlets, after French President Chirac's complaint in the international community about the Netherlands being a "drugs state," declared the Dutch "experiment," dead.

But it is still there some 13 years later, as it is protected by the Treaty of Amsterdam, which succeeded the treaty of Maastricht, as it reformed structure of the European Union institutions, rationalizing the union somewhat.

This protection was negotiated by Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok (Labor Party) at a meeting in the UK in the run-up to the 1998 EU Summit in Amsterdam, in order to resolve the differing approaches to cannabis and drug control law across the union. It was agreed to disagree and for countries to pursue NATIONAL drug control strategies.

Further, a national election is coming next spring, and the current hostility toward coffeeshops is directly tied to the currently sitting government and its 3 predecessor governments, all 4 led by prime minister JP Balkenende, who is personally hostile toward coffeeshops

These 4 governments have been so weak that ALL they have been able to do is ban tobacco use in public, ban fresh magic mushrooms, and exact revenge against the coffeeshops and their customers. Period.

Remember that this is only about 1 postal code in 1 part of the center of Amsterdam, and they propose to eliminate only 1/3 of 45 in this 1 square kilometer. That leaves 30 in this same area, and 225, assuming zero relocation, in the city of Amsterdam alone. Some 500 others are spread in cities and towns throughout the country.

So overt alarm-ism is not warranted, especially since the UN has this year put forth the idea that cannabis prohibition is at a functional stalemate in the world at this time, and they are now exploring options to move, "beyond the stalemate."

This means to me that people have prevailed over governmental control.

Further, the USA, its press apparatus, and its governmental officials and politicians are finally coming to the conclusion that arresting 770,000 people/year for a decade on simple cannabis possession charges, and 10 million since 1993, when under the Clinton Administration, arrests for simple marijuana possession nearly tripled and stayed at or above that level until 2008 and continuing, according to annual FBI crime statistics, is not and has not been a good idea.

So, if the UN and the US are coming to different conclusions, albeit after nearly 100 years of misery and pain, why should the Netherlands throw it all away?

Dutch Coffeeshops

I was just there in March. I found it slightly strange from previous visits. The Katsu ( one of my favorites ) had put up a clear partition between areas for tobacco and not. You couldn't smoke inside the Centraal Coffeeshop. You could by product and prep it inside and then you had to smoke outside and pollute the air passerby's had to breath.

I think if they regulate it to much it will convert to a black market far beyond their expectations causing many of the problems we are having here in the states. It will turn into another Juarez Mexico with all of the murders on a daily basis.

I still feel it would be better to legalize it and control a legal supply. Get the populace involved, so the criminal aspect is shut out. Deal with it like the Flower Industry. You don't see much crime talked about there. Just proud legal growers, distributors and marketers. Put it out in the open so the darker criminal aspect shy's away from it.

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