Dutch Municipalities Plan New Campaign Against Drug Tourists | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.10.2008
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Dutch Municipalities Plan New Campaign Against Drug Tourists

Municipal officials in the Netherlands are taking another crack at stopping drug tourists flooding into their country to take advantage of the country's soft drugs policy.

A legalize cannabis campaigner smokes a joint in front of some pro-cannabis graffiti

Dutch municipalities are hoping to cooperate in a new initiative against drugs tourism

The Dutch association for municipalities, VNG, announced Tuesday, Oct. 28 that it will host a soft drugs summit in the third week of November in Maastricht. Participants will seek ways to discourage tourists who visit the Netherlands to take advantage of its liberal drug laws. By extension, the summit also seeks to reduce drug-related crime.

The summit comes in the wake of last week's decision by the south- western Dutch towns of Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom to gradually close their local "coffee shops" in an attempt to reduce drug-related crimes.

All Dutch cities and towns close to the German or Belgian borders are invited to the summit. After the summit, the VNG will present the cities' common position to the government.

The goal, according to VNG, is to get the government to negotiate an international soft drugs policy with Belgium and Germany.

The Netherlands effectively decriminalized soft drugs a few decades ago when it introduced a policy of "non-enforcement." Although possession and cultivation of cannabis remains technically illegal in Holland, law enforcement has systematically turned a blind eye, and the courts usually rule in favor of individual defendants.

The sale and use of so-called soft drugs, such as marijuana, is legal in designated stores, usually referred to as "coffee shops."

Maastricht suffering most from drug-related crime

Maastricht mayor Gerd Leers calls the current Dutch drugs policy "hypocritical." He says it enables drug-related crime and also increases the sale and distribution of hard drugs, such as heroin.

Police inspector L. Notten, right, talks to a French drug tourist in Maastricht

A police officer talks to a French drug tourist in Maastricht

Maastricht is one of the Dutch cities suffering most from drug- related crime. The city is visited by more than 1.5 million drugs tourists per year and has 16 "coffee shops," 10 more than in Dutch cities of comparable size not located close to the border.

Police estimate Maastricht also has more than 100 "soft drugs supermarkets," illegal stores where one can purchase soft drugs in larger quantities than the 5 grams per person allowed under Dutch law.

Leers says police officers in his city deal with triple the amount of crime as their colleagues in the metropolitan area of The Hague.

Most of the crime in Maastricht is drug-related, and the number of drug-related murders each year is increasing, according to police officials.

German cross-border smokers favor Enschede

A man smokes an extremely large cannabis pipe

Drug tourism could go up in smoke

The town of Enschede has been particularly problematic for local authorities, because of its immediate proximity to the German border. Thousands of drug tourists, mainly from Germany, pour across the border each year for a taste of legal marijuana.

The Netherlands have considered many ways in the past to deter drug tourism, such as restricting the sale of soft drugs to Dutch nationals by demanding coffee shops ask to see passports while political pressure has led to a decline in the number of coffee shops.

The last official figures showed that the Netherlands had 740 coffee shops in 2004 compared to 1,180 in 1997. But it is unclear whether the reduction in the number of coffee shops has actually resulted in a decrease in drug consumption and drug tourism.

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