Dutch coffee shops hoping to reverse 'weed pass' law
on 04/09/2012 14:08:53
The recently introduced "weed pass" laws are intended to halt sales in the coffee shops and close them altogether to foreign tourists.
Under the new system, coffee shops become member-only clubs and only Dutch residents can apply for a pass to get in. The cafes are limited to a maximum of 2,000 members.
At one shop in The Hague, a member of staff selling marijuana wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a modified Uncle Sam style poster calling on smokers to "Vote against the weed pass on September 12".
The online vote2smoke.nl campaign offers cannabis and marijuana users voting advice by showing which political parties support dumping the "weed pass", which came into force in the southern Netherlands earlier this year and is intended to roll out over the whole country in coming years.
Joep Oomen of the legalise cannabis movement says it is hard to know exactly how big the pot-smoking constituency is, but he estimates it at around half a million people in the nation of 16 million.
Basically the advice to them boils down to this: Voting for any political party on the left is good, and any party on the right is bad.
One champion of the smokers' lobby is Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer, a jovial 50-year-old former teacher whose party is expected to make significant gains at the September 12 election.
Speaking at a campaign event this weekend, he called the weed pass "incredibly stupid" and vowed to scrap it if he wins power.
He said the pass system simply pushes drug dealers onto the streets and out of the controlled environment of the coffee shops - "so stop the wietpas" he said, using its Dutch name.
The centre-left Labour Party, which is surging in pre-election polls thanks to strong performances by its leader Diederik Samsom in televised debates, also advocates scrapping the pass and replacing it with legislation that would further enshrine tolerance of marijuana in Dutch law and regulate not only coffee shops but also growers.
However, the coffee shops still have a fight on their hands - the conservative VVD party of outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte is topping polls and looks like becoming the biggest single party. It was a VVD-led coalition that introduced the weed pass and it is standing by the policy.
Coffee shops have long been tolerated in The Netherlands because authorities believe they keep users away from street dealers of more dangerous and outlawed drugs like cocaine and heroin.
The cafes have become tourist magnets in Amsterdam, but the government clamped down on them because they are blamed for crime, traffic and parking problems.