The Netherlands has long been famous for their tolerance of cannabis possession and its use in coffee shops. While not technically legal, authorities tolerate the use of cannabis and soft drugs, understanding that separating the hard and soft drug markets is important for reducing the harm drugs bring society. With this policy of tolerance, the Dutch have half the rates of both cannabis use and hard drug use, as well as having half the rate of teen use as the United States.
However, the new government is populated by more conservative elements and they are pushing for stricter cannabis policies. The border town of Maastricht passed a ban on foreigners patronizing the coffee shops to address a problem with Belgian and French “drug tourism”. Some 70% of coffee shop business derives from foreigners. The court of the European Union has upheld the ban, contrary to usual EU decisions allowing for free trade and free travel among the member nations. An appeal will be heard on December 16.
The new government pushes to enact a nationwide ban on foreigners in coffee shops through the creation of a “cannabis pass” available only to Dutch citizens. However, Tilburg University researcher Nicole Maalsté tells the Dutch newspaper Trouw that the ban would have the opposite of its intended effect, leading to more crime.
Maalsté says tourists who want to buy drugs will simply look for street dealers. In addition, there are many Dutch nationals who do not want to be registered as official marijuana users, she says.
‘Which problem do we want to solve with the pass?,’ she asks. ‘Eindhoven does not have a problem with drugs tourism.’
So the foreigners who would cross the border into Holland for their cannabis will turn to the streets when the coffee shops aren’t available. The growers who supply the coffee shops can make more money selling for higher prices in the street than are found in the shops. The Dutch citizens who value their privacy will also turn away from the coffee shops and get their cannabis in the streets.
As it is in the United States, when social conservatives get the reins of power and try to restrict cannabis, underground unregulated marijuana dealers benefit.