Mayor of Maastricht Backtracks on Coffee Shop Rule
Making cafe customers register for a "weed pass" reportedly boosted street dealing in Maastricht. Will other Dutch cities relent?
Is this one to file under “hate to say we told you so?” Maastricht is set to become the first Dutch city to push back against the government requirement that citizens register as marijuana users in order to buy weed from coffee shops. Mayor Onno Hoes wrote to city councillors last week to tell them that customers should no longer have to register. The Dutch Justice Ministry introduced the controversial law to turn coffee shops into members-only clubs in an effort to block drug tourists' access—but the move has met resistance from a coalition of coffee shop owners, smokers and politicians, who have branded it “tourist suicide.”
Maastricht was one of the first cities to enforce the ban, almost a year ago. As well as a drop in pot tourists from France and Belgium, it faced losing an estimated 345 jobs and $41 million in tourism revenue. But it wasn’t just money that caused the mayor of the border city to change his mind: unsurprisingly, locals weren’t eager to register on a government database as users of a technically illegal drug, and this incentive to avoid legitimate establishments has seen street drug-dealing flourish. “I was in Maastricht in June,” says one commenter on DutchNews.NL, “and noticed large amounts of shady looking street dealers. When the crime rates begin to go up changes will be made.”
Still, the new policy earned approval from American drug warriors, who wasted no time celebrating the apparent end of the “Mecca of Weed.” Three-administration advisor, drug hawk and Fix contributor Kevin Sabet participated in a live chat on the subject of marijuana with the Seattle Times recently: “We know a few things about the Netherlands,” he said. “First and foremost, we know that in that country officials and the public have become increasingly uneasy with their de facto legalization policies. In fact, they are completely reversing them—closing down pot shops, restricting who can buy marijuana (Sorry, American college students!)”
He may have spoken too soon. Maastricht could be the first of several Dutch cities to opt out of the new system, with many in local government—like the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan—opposing it. “The weed card will be introduced in Amsterdam,” said Dutch Junior Justice minister Fred Teeven recently, “but we will take local government into account.” Some took his words as a sign that the government might be softening its approach. And with a September 12 election looming—and a sizeable movement aiming to mobilize around half a million weed-smoking voters to ditch pro-"weed pass" politicians—that may make political sense. Another DutchNews commenter writes, “The only people that will be upset if the weed pass plan is dropped will be the street drug dealers.”