17 September 2009
By Alix Rijckaert (AFP)
ROOSENDAAL, Netherlands — Hundreds of people found the doors closed Wednesday at seven Dutch coffee shops that were forced to stop selling soft drugs under mayors’ orders, officials in two towns said.
An eighth shop remained open with the owner insisting it was selling “only coffee” as the cannabis ban took effect following a defeat for the coffee shops in court on Tuesday.
“I am surprised. I didn’t know that one can no longer buy” cannabis here, said Sarah, a 25-year-old student, who travelled to the southern Dutch city of Roosendaal by train from Antwerp across the border in Belgium.
The consumption and possession of small amounts of cannabis have been decriminalised since 1976 in the Netherlands, where it is sold in about 700 licensed coffee shops.
However, the mayors of Roosendaal and Bergen-op-Zoom, some 15 kilometres (xx miles) apart, announced last year that all eight coffee shops within their borders would be barred from selling cannabis from Wednesday.
The move was aimed at staving off some 25,000 marijuana-smoking tourists, mainly French and Belgian, who flood their communities every week.
Roosendaal’s mayor Michel Marijnen said the cannabis ban “is definite, at least until there are no more drug tourists coming here.”
Several hundred “drug tourists” visited in vain on Wednesday, said the mayor, as Dutch police reinforced by Belgian officers patrolled and distributed information leaflets.
The coffee shops can continue operating as ordinary bars or cafes, but violation of the drugs ban would be punishable by a five-year closure.
Six of the shops took the mayors to court last week to try to prevent any closure in the event of a transgression, but a judge rejected their application.
The six “have left their shutters down” on Wednesday, their lawyer Harry Nieland told AFP, alongside a seventh coffee shop that had not been part of the court action.
He said his clients were considering filing a new challenge to the mayors’ decision with an administrative tribunal.
Several staff members were posted at the entrance to coffee shop Azul in Roosendaal Wednesday, now selling only beverages, to intercept clients unaware of the changes.
Azul used to accommodate hundreds of cannabis buyers every day.
“This will do nothing but displace the problem,” said Sarah, who would not give her last name.
“Next time, I will simply take the bus to (nearby) Breda,” where coffee shops are still allowed to sell marijuana.
Marijnen said police would continue operations to prevent illegal street sales following the coffee shop closures.
Meanwhile, in a snack bar in Roosendaal, a man was offering large quantities of cannabis at prices lower than those of the former coffee shops.
The national Dutch government announced plans last week to limit drug tourism by reserving hundreds of cannabis-vending coffee shops for locals.Republish