Amsterdam falls out of love with coffee shops as liberal stance on drugs begins to crumble
By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent
05 March 2005
For the past 18 years Michael Veling and his staff have been serving up such delights as White Widow and Blueberry in his wood-panelled coffee shop in the heart of Amsterdam.
For as little as 5 (£3.50) visitors can smoke a cannabis joint in Café De Kuil and sip a beer while listening to music ranging from Frank Zappa to Mozart.
The 50-year-old bar owner and political activist said: "My main concern is to make sure there is a good mix of people at my coffee shop and that they get the best quality grass and marijuana."
But the Dutch coffee shop system is under threat. According to one of the country's leading drug specialists and a government adviser, cannabis coffee shops and café-bars will be extinct within five years.
The number of cannabis outlets has already declined from a peak of nearly 1,500 to about 750. Only about a fifth of Dutch towns and cities have coffee shops, and that number is shrinking.
The clampdown is being blamed on a more conservative attitude by the coalition government and local mayors, and pressure from other European Union members who disapprove of the Dutch approach.
This shift in attitude was acknowledged by the United Nations earlier this week. The annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which is part of the UN, noted that the Netherlands' government had informed them of a "crucial and significant change in its policy on cannabis". It said that the Dutch government has promised to take tougher action against drug tourists, street dealing, cannabis growing, and the coffee shops. The report stated: "The [Dutch] government notes that coffee shops may discredit the drug policy of the country in general."
Professor Hamid Ghodse, president of the INCB, said: "There has been a crucial and significant change in the Dutch cannabis policy. They now say for the first time that cannabis is not harmless and that coffee shops are not blameless."
Among the measures being introduced is a pilot scheme in the province of Limburg which bans foreigners from buying drugs in coffee shops, to kill the trade in tourists coming over the nearby borders with Germany and Belgium. A study is being made of strong forms of cannabis, which is likely to lead to a ban of these varieties. In addition the police are targeting people who grow cannabis at home.
The law on coffee shops, the first of which opened in 1975, is confusing, and many believe nonsensical. Cannabis use is not illegal, but possession of the drug is against the law. However, anyone caught with less than 30g of the substance is not prosecuted. Anyone aged over 18 can buy up to five grams of cannabis in a coffee shop, which is allowed to hold a stock of up to 500g. But technically the shop owner is breaking the law and can be prosecuted for buying large quantities of cannabis in the first place and transporting it to the shop.
Supporters of the coffee shop system fear that a collapse of the outlets would lead to drug dealing and cultivation going underground, which would play into the hands of criminals.
August de Loor, an independent consultant who advises the Dutch government on drug policy, said: "The changes have been brought about by the influence of the Yankees [the United States], Brussels and the EU. The Dutch approach is usually very pragmatic.
"But in the past four years things have started to change and there is a more conservative approach. The control of coffee shops has become much more strict. The police are checking up on them more and there is much more strict interpretation of the rules. More and more mayors are banning coffee shops from their cities. I think in four or five years' time there will be no more coffee shops left in Holland."
He added: "We have a conservative government at the moment but it's nothing to do with the left or right. It's a moral thing. It's a sign of the times."
But Mr Veling is unperturbed by talk of the death of the coffee shop. "It's all rhetoric by the government. It's just to pacify certain members of the European Union - I do not believe it," he said.
HOW THE LAW VARIES
Britain: Cannabis has been downgraded from Class B to Class C. Possession of a small amount ceased to be an arrestable offence in most situations, but officers still have the power to arrest. Usually, the drug is to be confiscated and users warned. The maximum penalty for possession has been reduced from five years to two years.
Netherlands: Dealing in small quantities of cannabis through coffee shops is technically illegal. Drug use is not an offence. Possessingup to 30g is a minor offence, though users are not prosecuted. Possessingmore than 30g is a criminal offence.
EU pushes for common standards on drug treatment
17.02.2005 - 17:42 CET | By Lucia Kubosova
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The new European Commission's plan on illegal drugs suggests setting up minimum EU standards on drug treatment and calls for more effective alternatives to prison for drug related crimes.
However, Brussels, which unveiled its new Drug Action Plan for 2005-2008 on Thursday (17 February) wants to avoid an "ideological debate" on drugs with member states.
Drug abuse is currently at historic levels across Europe, with up to two million problem drug users - especially among young people - in the EU.
The European Commission argues that there is a need for "solid and intelligent co-operation at the European level", pointing to a 2002 survey which suggested that 71% of Europeans wanted to see decisions on drugs taken by the EU.
However, drugs policies remain in the hands of national governments and there are numerous legal differences in drugs-related practices in the member states.
Some countries, such as the Netherlands, have introduced a more liberal approach towards criminalisation of drug use over the years while medical treatment of drug addicts also differ across the continent.
"We do not want to get involved in an ideological debate with the member states...But that debate is coming closer", said a Commission official.
The most recent statistics show changing patterns in use of drugs across Europe.
While the use of heroine has gradually declined over the past years, the EU has become the world leader in the use of synthetic drugs, mainly ecstasy.
The number of people demanding treatment for cocaine addiction, as well as teenagers using cannabis is also rising significantly.
Differences in drug criminalisation
In most EU member states, the majority of reported drug law offences are related to drug use or possession for use, according to the 2004 Report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
However, in Italy and Spain those are not criminal offences, so all drug offences relate to dealing or trafficking.
Disparities across the member states also remain in punishment for different drugs-related offences.
The report suggested that some countries have changed their policies on the basis of impact research showing that stricter measures towards non-violent drug users did not lead to a reduction in drug use.
Different rules for treatment
The Commission says its plan to create minimal required conditions for drug treatment across the EU is to ensure that the fundamental rights of citizens are protected.
The EMCDDA report argues that drug-related treatment in general has moved away from hospitals into treatment centres in community settings. However, this trend has been less evident in the new member states, where psychiatric hospitals remain the primary treatment providers.
The same applies for "substitution treatment" which is used commonly for opiate users in the EU, apart from in the ten newcoming countries, where drug-free treatment options dominate.
The changes have been brought about by the influence of the Yankees [the United States]
Does this mean I will have to cancel my honeymoon?
'just say no' is my motto (unless it's the finest quality sensemillia)
Hotel: Victoria Hotel Amsterdam
Room type: Superior Double
Number of rooms: 1
Persons per room: 2
Arrival: 17 March 2005
Departure: 21 March 2005
Your question: Please arrange for Tea and Coffee making facilities in the room. *smoking*
Dutch Declare Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Illegal
Saturday, October 13, 2007
AMSTERDAM, Oct. 12 -- The Netherlands will ban the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms, the government announced Friday, tightening the country's famed liberal drug policies after the suicide of an intoxicated teenager.
Mushrooms "will be outlawed the same way as other drugs," Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin said. "The way we will enforce the ban is through targeting sellers."
Psilocybin, the main active chemical in the mushrooms, has been illegal under international law since 1971. But fresh, unprocessed mushrooms continued to be sold legally in the Netherlands along with herbal medicines in "smartshops," on the theory that it was impossible to determine how much psilocybin any given mushroom contains.
That meant mushrooms were less regulated than marijuana, which is technically illegal but sold openly in small amounts in "coffee shops." Possession of such "hard" drugs as cocaine, LSD and ecstasy is illegal.
The government has cracked down on hard drugs and tightened controls on marijuana. It was expected to do the same with mushrooms after the death of Gaelle Caroff, 17, who jumped from a building in March after eating psychedelic mushrooms. Caroff had suffered from psychological problems.
But the outright ban had not been expected: The government had solicited advice from vendors, advocacy groups and the city of Amsterdam, which benefits financially from drug-related tourism, on how to improve the situation.
Mushroom vendors suggested stricter ID controls to prevent underage buyers and strong warnings against mixing mushrooms with other drugs. Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen had suggested a three-day "cooling off" period between ordering them and using them.
The Justice Ministry decided those measures did not go far enough.
About 500,000 "doses" of packaged mushrooms are sold annually in the Netherlands. According to a study published in January by Amsterdam's health services, the city's emergency services were summoned 148 times to deal with a bad reaction to mushrooms from 2004 to 2006. Of those cases, 134 involved foreigners, with Britons forming the largest group.
Denmark outlawed mushrooms in 2001, Japan in 2002, Britain in 2005 and Ireland in 2006. Selling mushrooms containing psilocybin is illegal in the United States, but the status varies from state to state for spores, homegrown species and wild species.
Murat Kucuksen, whose farm, Procare, supplies about half the psychedelic mushrooms on the Dutch market, predicted that the trade will move underground as a result of the ban. Prices will rise, and dealers will sell dried mushrooms or LSD as a substitute to tourists without offering any guidance, he said.
"So you'll have a rise in incidents, but they won't be recorded as mushroom-related, and the politicians can declare victory," he said.