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Dutch lawmakers approve cultivation of cannabis

Lawmakers in the lower house have narrowly passed a law backing the legal growing and sale of cannabis, under government control. Until now, less than five grams of cannabis could be sold legally by coffee shops.

The legislation, brought forward by member of parliament (MP) Vera Bergkamp of the progressive D66 party, was approved after a 77 for and 72 against vote in the lower house on Tuesday.

Bergkamp argued the cultivation and sale of cannabis would be better controlled if it was regulated by the government and the draft law would help fight criminality.

D66 said the legislation would also enable quality checks on cannabis crops and allow authorities to levy taxies on what has become a multi-million euro industry.

More growers likely

The bill overturns a ban that prevents the public from growing more than five plants for personal use, although the Netherlands has allowed the sale of small amounts of cannabis since 1976 in its famous coffee shops.

However, it still has to be approved in the upper house, known as the First Chamber, where there is no certainty that a majority will be reached.

Commentators said it was unlikely the draft bill would reach the upper house before the country's general election on March 15. As a result, the draft law could become a bargaining chip in discussions to form a new coalition following the election.

Under the proposals, owners of coffee shops would be able to buy cannabis from certified growers within a "closed system." This was welcomed by a number of people involved in the trade.

"It is good news for the coffee shop industry because it will finally - if it passes the First Chamber - put an end to a lot of stuff we can't organize in a normal and transparent way," said Joachim Helms, chairman of the Coffee Shop Union.

'Addiction will rise'

But opponents have said larger-scale cannabis cultivation breaks international rules and would lead to more addiction among young people.

Dutch coffee shops remain popular with locals and foreigners alike. In major hubs such as Amsterdam they are a major draw for some of the millions of tourists who visit the country every year.

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mm/jm(AFP, AP)

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