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On Wednesday 3 July 2013 the standing committee on Security and Justice had a debate with Mr Ivo Opstelten, minister of Security and Justice, about the Dutch policy on cannabis coffee shops.

Introduction 

The Netherlands has a policy of toleration on soft drugs. Selling soft drugs in coffee shops is punishable, but the Prosecution Office will not prosecute the coffee shop on the condition that coffee shops observe the criteria. For instance, coffee shops must not cause any nuisance, they are not allowed to sell hard drugs and they are not allowed to sell cannabis (hash or weed) to minors. Municipalities themselves can determine how many coffee shops, if any, can operate within their boundaries.

The "resident-criterion"

In order to tackle nuisance and (organised) crime and to reduce the number of drug tourists from abroad, a new rule was introduced, which took effect on 1 January 2013. Only Dutch residents are allowed to enter a coffee shop and to buy cannabis there. A resident is a person who lives in a Dutch community and is registered there. This rule has applied to the provinces of Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland as from 1 May 2012. Since 2013 the rule has applied throughout the country. Introduction of the weed pass was cancelled, but coffee shops remain exclusively accessible for individuals who can produce some ID or a residence permit, in combination with an extract from the population register.

Weed pass

As from 1 May 2012 the so-called weed pass, a membership card, was required to gain access to coffees shops in the provinces of Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland. Due to the introduction of stricter rules, a coffee shop had to become a private members club. Coffee shop owners kept a list of members. The maximum number of members was 2,000 per coffee shop. As from 19 November 2012 the mandatory weed pass was replaced by the resident-criterion. The Cabinet hopes this measure will lead to Dutch residents buying their cannabis in coffee shops rather than in the illegal circuit.

 Research

The Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) has carried out an investigation into the new coffee shop policy over the period from May 2012 until late November 2012. Sample surveys were carried out in 14 towns with coffee shops throughout the country: 7 in the three southern provinces and 7 in the other provinces. In Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland the use of the weed pass and the residents criterion was monitored and enforced during this period. This was not done in the other provinces, because the use of the weed pass and the resident-criterion was not yet mandatory there.

 Experiences from Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland

The number of drug tourists from abroad and the related nuisance decreased sharply. In the province of Limburg the number of drug tourists fell by 80% to 90%, which was also noticeable through reduced trafic nuisance. In North-Brabant and Zeeland, too, the stream of drug tourists decreased, as did the number of visits to coffee shops. Users more often bought their cannabis via illegal supply chains. Little changed when it comes to nuisance. However, nuisance moved from the coffee shops and surroundings to street dealers. Police capacity is made available both for tackling street dealers and enforcing the resident-criterion.

 Maastricht

Following a decision given by the District Court in Maastricht on 25 April 2013, coffee shops in Maastricht started to sell drugs to non-residents again. The municipality of Maastricht appealed against this decision. The municipality of Maastricht does not want to return to the old situation, with drug tourists flooding the city and causing much nuisance. On Wednesday 26 June the District Court in Maastricht decided that the Maastricht coffee shops were not allowed to sell weed to people who do not live in the Netherlands. The so-called resident-criterion is not inconsistent with the Dutch Constitution and European law.

 Growing weed

By request of the House of Representatives Mr Ivo Opstelten, minister of Security and Justice, identified which municipalities were interested in experimenting with regulated weed growing. A total of 18 municipalities submitted plans for weed growing experiments. Municipal weed growing could possibly reduce nuisance and drug-related crime. However, the minister keeps opposing the regulation or legalization of weed growing, because it is inconsistent with international treaties. He will inform the House of Representatives no later than 1 January about these municipal initiatives and their judicial feasibility.