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Europe

Last puff of pot for foreigners in Dutch hash houses

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Dutch cities are permitted to restrict who visits its famous 'coffee shops' where people can legally buy and consume hashish and marijuana.

Woman smoking a joint

The Netherlands is noted as a tolerant haven for drug users

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg ruled on Thursday that Dutch authorities have the right to ban coffee shops from selling marijuana to foreigners to combat drug tourism.

The verdict is an important test case for the country's crackdown on the popular soft drug dens, which have attracted so many tourists from neighboring countries, in particular Germany and Belgium, that many cities are having a problem coping with what has become a widespread public nuisance.

Specifically, the EU's highest court said that the southern Dutch city of Maastricht – just barely 20 minutes from the German border – was within its rights when it introduced a "weed passport" in 2005 to prevent foreigners from entering cafes that sell marijuana and hashish.

Maastricht's 14 pot cafes attract around 10,000 visitors a day, or 3.9 million a year, and 70 percent of them are not from the Netherlands, according to data presented to the ECJ.

Man inhaling marijuana smoke from a water pipe

Legal Dutch drug outlets are a popular destination

Foreign IDs to be checked

Thursday's ruling rejected a claim by the owner of one Maastricht coffee shop that the policy was discriminatory and breached European Union laws on the free movement of goods and services.

The decision now means that cities in the Netherlands can go through with their plan to set up a network of computers in coffee shops that can read electronic ID cards to identify foreign patrons.

The City of Amsterdam has been locked in a similar battle with coffee shop owners to ban anyone who is not an "adult resident of the Netherlands."

Despite the court ruling, however, the country's 670 coffee shops will remain a legal – and lucrative - business in the Netherlands, serving an estimated five to six million customers annually, even without the foreigners.

Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa, AP, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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