Dutch Court Ruling Leaves Cannabis Shop Open to Tourists—For Now

By Dirk Hanson 06/29/11

Maastricht marijuana shop reopens, but Dutch politicians continue with crackdown.

Plaintiff Marc Joseman heads to court.
Photo via tokeofthetown

The Dutch don’t rush into things, as a rule, so ever since the announcement heard around the world—the closing of Dutch marijuana shops to foreigners—we’ve been waiting to see how the Dutch would actually proceed under this blanket pronouncement by the most conservative Dutch government in decades.

And, as we suspected, the brakes are beginning to be applied. Today, the top court in The Netherlands ruled that a coffee shop in the border town of Maastricht, less than a mile from the Belgian border, can remain open to foreigners, who account for three-fourths of the coffee shop trade in that town. The Dutch government, eager to reduce what it calls “drug tourism,” wants to turn the coffee shops into members-only clubs with private membership cards for the local market only. Late last year, the Dutch Council of State, the nation’s high court, ruled that Maastricht was “within its rights to ban foreigners from its coffee shops, due to ‘nuisance’ caused by border-hopping foreigners buying cannabis,” according to a report in Deutsche Welle. Marc Joseman, owner of the Easy Going coffee shop in Maastricht, and leader of the local union of coffee shop owners, chose to defy the ban. This time, the Dutch Council of State said the law contravened other drug statutes on the books, and was therefore unlawful.

It’s only a partial victory, however. This is how things often work in The Netherlands. Time, consensus building, and a dislike of sudden social change all act as brakes on impetuous legislation. The narrow ruling said that the mayor of Maastricht had based his decision on inappropriate legal precedents. “The judgment does not mean the mayor has no further statutory scope for taking measures against coffee shops that he believes cause nuisance problems,” the court said in a statement. “Under the Opium Act itself, the mayor may impose an enforcement order against coffee shops selling narcotics.”

So. This leave us… where? A local headline in the Dutch News, a weekly paper for expatriates living in The Netherlands, saw the decision in a different light, headlining their story: “Cannabis cafe tourist ban can go ahead, says supreme court.” And technically, they’re right: The new ruling is in line with a December decision by the European Court of Justice, which concluded that banning foreigners from coffee shop was not an unconstitutional act. The Dutch high court essentially agreed, so expect more court cases and more semantic battles over stricter regulations coming from the center-right government in The Hague. Neither side is willing to give this one up yet—and the city of Amsterdam has thrown down on the issue, too, making clear its distaste for the whole idea of turning tourists out of local coffee shops.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]