In late February, Dutch politicians shocked Holland’s cannabis culture by announcing that a new coalition government intends to shut down half the country’s 800 cannabis coffeeshops by year’s end.
Last year, Cannabis Culture was the first international news organization to publish exclusive information obtained directly from Holland’s newly-elected right-wing ruling party, the CDA (CC#39, Dutch coffeeshops under attack).
CDA spokespersons told us their party’s goal was to end Holland’s 30-year experiment with tolerance of “soft drugs” like marijuana, and to completely eliminate pot coffeeshops.
At the time, nobody believed the CDA could follow through on its threat, and the CDA’s fragile governing coalition broke up less than three months after it came to power.
Recent Dutch elections created a new power balance, with CDA losing ground to Holland’s Socialist party, called the PvdA. The two parties now hold a majority of seats in a new government that is forming.
The PvdA was a major partner in the pre-2002 Dutch government that instituted a quietly hostile approach to cannabis shops ? more than 600 were closed from 1996 to 2001.
Before the most recent elections, PvdA told Dutch voters that the party did not share CDA’s belief that more coffeeshops should be closed. Since the elections in which PvdA gained added clout, spokespersons for CDA and PvdA have publicly stated that the new government will move aggressively to shut down hundreds of coffeeshops that violate zoning restrictions which seek to move cannabis shops away from schools, or that otherwise violate Holland’s rules for acceptable cannabis shop behavior.
In the past five years, Dutch police and the federal government have stepped up harassment of the billion-dollar per year cannabis industry. Seed producers have been forced out of Holland, increased surveillance of electricity consumption has resulted in major grow busts, and cannabis coffeeshops have been raided.
Dutch coffeeshop policy is mostly determined by local officials, which means that enforcement of federal regulations is uneven. In some municipalities, such as Amsterdam, coffeeshops are being visited by police on a regular basis, with some customers even reporting temporary detention and being required to produce passports and other information.
In Dutch border towns near Germany, coffeeshops are being told to sell only to Dutch citizens, because officials are concerned about tens of thousands of German tourists who regularly trek to Holland for marijuana.
The CDA Justice Minister, Donner, says he will be moving full speed ahead to shut down as many coffeeshops as possible as quickly as he can. He also said he would take action against businesses that advertise cannabis-related products on the Internet.
United Nations’ accusations
Holland’s apparent shift away from its long-revered rational pot policies is in ironic contrast to developments in other countries like Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Canada and England ? countries in the process of liberalizing cannabis laws so that they resemble the formerly-tolerant Dutch model.
The United Nations is fighting against drug law reform. Its International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), has attacked British Home Secretary David Blunkett’s plan to reclassify cannabis into a less severe criminal category later this year.
According to the INCB’s Nigerian president, Philip Emafo, “No government should take unilateral measures without considering the impact of its actions and ultimately the consequences for an entire system that took governments almost a century to establish.”
The INCB conceded Blunkett’s plan to make possession of cannabis no longer an arrestable offense did not violate international anti-narcotics treaties, but said that Blunkett’s mild proposal sent “the wrong message” and might “confuse” children about the harmfulness of cannabis.
INCB also attacked Switzerland’s proposed liberalization policies, while an INCB psychiatrist claimed that making possession of cannabis less of a criminal offense would result in mental hospitals filling up with people who have gone crazy from smoking herb.
In Haarlem, Holland, Dutch cannabis activist, author and coffeeshop entrepreneur Nol Van Schaik decried what he described as a concerted, worldwide, US-backed war on cannabis.
“I don’t believe our government will succeed in shutting down 400 shops or all the shops, but clearly the US and UN know that as long as there are any legal marijuana shops in Holland, that it is a direct contradiction of the drug war,” Schaik told Cannabis Culture.
“We’ve demonstrated that Holland’s policies are the best in the world, and yet we have attacks against our industry and culture from outside and inside. This is going to be a crucial turning point year, when we find out if people who love marijuana ? whether they be coffeeshop owners, growers, or smokers ? will stand up for marijuana freedom before it is too late.”