The city of Amsterdam ordered nearly one-fifth of its cannabis cafés to close by 2011 in order to comply with national legislation designed to protect children from drugs. The targeted “coffee shops,” which sell marijuana and hashish as well as caffeinated drinks, all operate within 250 m of a school. Peter Veling, a Cannabis Union spokesman, thinks it’s overkill, pointing out that stiff penalties already exist for selling to under-18s: “They know a school-aged customer found on the premises would mean instant closure of the coffee shop.”
One of the most famous dope hangouts affected by the law is the Bulldog café in the Leidseplein, a popular tourist mecca. Located in a former police headquarters, it was opened on April Fool’s Day in 1985. Though Margriet Bosman, principal of the nearby high school, opposes the new rule—“We actually think it’s just for show”—her underage students admit it isn’t difficult to buy marijuana from the 228 coffee shops in the city.
The new rule is apparently part of a rethinking of permissive drug policies in the Netherlands, which effectively decriminalized marijuana use in 1976. At a recent “weed summit,” mayors pushed for a regulated supply system to cut criminals out of the cultivation and wholesale trade. One city, Eindhoven, proposed setting up a marijuana plantation pilot project to grow pot for its coffee shops. Two towns near the Belgian border, tired of the stoner tourist trade and resultant crime, are forcing all their cannabis cafés to close. A fourth is considering restricting sales to Dutch citizens.
A government report evaluating its current drug strategy is due next year. However, given that 80 per cent of Dutch citizens opposed shutting down the coffee shops in a recent poll, a total ban is unlikely.
News of Amsterdam’s café closures came days before a nationwide halt to the sale of fresh “magic” mushrooms. That ban was announced after a number of incidents, including the death of a 17-year-old French girl, who jumped into a canal while high on the hallucinogen in March.