Dutch “coffee shops”, a euphemism for outlets selling soft-drugs, have announced they are going on strike on 9 June, the day the country will hold parliamentary elections. The idea behind closing for the day is to encourage all those who like to smoke a joint to get out and vote for the parties which will ensure that coffee shops will not be banned in the Netherlands.
Nol van Schaik, who owns a coffee shop in Haarlem, launched the campaign because he feels the current government is biased against “shops” like his.
“We have been under a lot of pressure in recent years because of a very conservative government”, he says. “The pressure on us is mounting and with the possibility of a new right-wing cabinet, I think we should mobilise people to vote for parties that are cannabis-friendly”.
The last Dutch coalition cabinet – comprising Labour, Christian Democrats and a small Christian party – introduced tighter restrictions on coffee shops. It wanted to ban them within 250 metres of schools and restrict the sale of cannabis and other soft drugs to local residents only.
If approved, the latter measure would be a major blow for coffee shops in tourist areas such as Amsterdam, where their customers include many foreign visitors.
Mr Van Schaik fears that the pressure on his trade will increase if centre-right party CDA (Christian Democrats) or the populist Freedom Party of Geert Wilders – not known for their cannabis-friendly policies – will dominate the new coalition cabinet after the 9 June elections. “We can only wait and see whether more coffeeshops will be forced to close”, he writes on his website. “Maybe you and me are next, maybe all of us”, he warns other cofee shop owners.
The strike is not just about closing for a day. It’s also a call for coffeeshop clientele to go out and vote on that day. “We’re putting up posters in our coffeeshops to warn our customers of the consequences of a new right-wing cabinet”, Mr Van Schaik says. “They’re people who normally don’t vote, saying for them politics is just one big mess. But it’s better to have a big mess and be allowed to smoke a joint than to have a mess with the coffeeshops closed. I hope that’s enough encouragement to at least go out and vote”.
Make a difference
Mr Van Schaik thinks that the pro-cannabis vote by Dutch coffee shop customers can make a difference on 9 June. “There are a million people who regularly smoke cannabis and who are eligible to vote. That’s 18 seats in parliament. If Labour wins four or five seats more, just because of our votes, they’ll be bigger than other parties and they’re very much pro-coffeeshop”.
Mr Van Schaik therefore welcomes Friday’s political upheaval over the announcement by Labour party leader Wouter Bos that he’s leaving politics, with Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen almost certain to take his place. “Mr Cohen has been very good for Amsterdam’s coffee shops, especially when it comes to regulating the supply chain. He will have a major impact on Dutch politics and we can only be hopeful about that”.
– Article from Radio Netherlands Worldwide.