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Amsterdam Smoking Cannabis But Not Tobacco

Jul 12, 2008
The new law enforces a smoking tobacco ban in public spaces such as restaurants, bars, and, yes, coffee shops: Those who smoke the reefer may continue to do so on licensed premises - providing they've not got cigarette in their marijuana.

The latest ban has spurred fresh claims Amsterdam's cannabis cafe culture is under threat. It follows on from April 2007 legislation forcing coffee shops to choose between serving alcohol or cannabis. While most coffee shops prefer to serve cannabis, the restriction has helped curb the presence of the cannabis coffee shop in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, the consumption and possession of cannabis is illegal but not punishable. And licensed coffee shops can sell up to five grams of marijuana to punters aged over 18 years. Half the Netherlands' cannabis-peddling coffee shops are concentrated in the capital.

Each municipality has its own coffee shop policy, but mostly licences are non-transferable with the number of licenses frozen. Certainly the municipality of Terneuzen is alone in obliging coffee shop patrons with road signs.

Still others are trying to work out how many inspectors it takes to monitor the makeup of joints up-and-down the capital and beyond. The authority responsible for enforcing the ban claims to have 200 inspectors checking compliance on the ground. Each inspector, they say, is trained in identifying impure states of imbibing from fifty paces, by smell and sight.

But the problem with the notion of rigorous control doesn't end with quality control and the ability to spot a tobacco-rolled joint. To say coffee shops aren't above the law would be something of a fib: By government policy they're tolerated, not legal. The various restrictions seem contrived to make the continued existence of coffee shops more difficult, while the government seems unable to issue a total ban.

It has been said the Netherlands is happy enough with its drug policy but is leant on by foreign governments. In fact the Dutch distinction between soft and hard drugs in law seems to produce relatively good results in terms of public health.

Rates of drug use in the Netherlands are similar to the European average, but drug related deaths tend to be fewer and addicts tend to be older. Rates of drug use across all categories but notably of cannabis use among school students in North America are significantly higher than rates of use in the Netherlands. Across all drug and violence indicators North America outperforms the Netherlands, being much more stoned and far more violent.

For the coffee shops of Amsterdam, times may be harder. But it's not over until the fat man stops rolling.
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