Dutch told they can ban sale of drugs to tourists

THE Netherlands can ban over-the-counter sales of marijuana in Dutch “coffee shops” to non-residents to end drugs tourism from Ireland, Belgium, France, Germany and other countries, a senior adviser to the European Union high court said yesterday.

Tens of thousands of people travel from Ireland annually to visit the world-famous cafes.

Yves Bot, the high court’s advocate general, said that, while selling soft drugs is legal in Holland, it is illegal elsewhere in the EU, which means products such as marijuana fall outside the protection of the free movement of goods across the 27-nation bloc.

Bot’s view is not binding on the high court, but the court often follows it.

It is scheduled to rule soon in the case of a coffee shop owner who sued the city of Maastricht in 2005 for banning the sale of soft drugs to non-residents of the Netherlands.

The city, which has a population of 120,000, did so to end the influx of 10,000 people a day — the majority of them residents of neighbouring nations — to buy marijuana and hashish. Dutch coffee shops cannot sell more than 5 grams of cannabis per person per day and their stock must not exceed 500 grams.

The city’s ban on sales of marijuana and hashish to foreign customers measure to cut crime from drug- tourism, the adviser said.

Yves Bot said “as drug tourism represents a genuine and sufficiently serious threat to public order in Maastricht, the exclusion of non-residents from coffee shops” is a “necessary” means to protect residents. The Luxembourg-based EU court follows this advice in a majority of cases.

While the Netherlands decriminalised the use of marijuana in 1976, it stopped short of fully legalising the drug because international treaties prohibited it from doing so. The country’s first coffee shop, named after Donovan’s song Mellow Yellow, opened its doors four years earlier.

It’s up to each of the EU’s 27 nations “to determine the measures necessary for maintaining public order,” said Bot.

The city of Maastricht will first study the opinion before giving a reaction, spokeswoman Marianne Ravestein said.

A ruling in line with yesterday’s opinion would be a setback for Marc Josemans, owner of the “Easy Going” coffee shop, who has been entangled in a dispute with the mayor of Maastricht, a city in the south of the Netherlands, since 2006, when Josemans was forced to close his shop after breaching the disputed rules.

Josemans couldn’t immediately be reached for a comment on yesterday’s opinion.

“Narcotics, including cannabis, are not goods like others and their sale doesn’t benefit from EU laws protecting the free movement of products in the region,” said Bot. While the sale of marijuana is tolerated in coffee shops in the Netherlands, “it remains an activity prohibited by all” EU nations, the EU court adviser said.

Of the 10,000 people who visit the city of Maastricht a day, some 70% come from Belgium, Germany and France.


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