“Coffee shops” where small amounts of cannabis have been legally bought and smoked, on or off the premises, since 1976, have become a major industry and a popular tourist attraction in many Dutch cities, especially the capital.
But the Dutch government has in recent years launched a major overhaul of the country’s “gedoogbeleid” or tolerance policy on soft drugs in order to combat drug tourism, which has is associated with public rowdiness in border towns, such as Maastricht, that lie close to Belgium, France and Germany.
The government has decided the influx of foreign tourists, including many young Britons, who come to Netherlands to smoke and consume cannabis that is illegal in their home countries poses a serious public order and criminality problem.
Cross border drug tourists suffered a serious blow at the end of 2010 when EU judges ruled that the authorities are not in breach of European single market laws by barring foreigners from buying marijuana that is on sale to the Dutch.
The ban is due to start in three southern border provinces next month, with a nationwide one by the end of the year expected to meet fierce resistance in liberal Amsterdam where both the city’s mayor and council are opposed to a prohibition on the “weed” trade for hundreds of thousands of tourists, including many Britons.
Under the proposals, cafés licensed to sell marijuana will have to introduce a checking system of locally issued “grass or weed passes” to Dutch residents in order to prevent foreign smokers from buying drugs.
Turnover of the legal “coffee shop” trade is estimated to be at least £1.6 billion every year, with tourist accounting for a significant income for cities like Amsterdam.
The ban edged close on Friday, after group of café owners lost a case at The Hague district court that the ban is discriminatory unless it can be proved that foreigners are causing more of a public order problem than locals.
Maurice Veldman, the lawyer for the Cannabis Retailers Association, attacked the ruling and accused the judges of having caved into political pressure.
“It is a 100 per cent political verdict to defend the state. There is no public order problem with coffee shops in cities like Amsterdam,” he said.
Mr Veldman said that under existing laws city authorities could ban foreigners “in cases of severe public disturbance” but that measures had never been used “since coffee shops are notorious for their peaceful and non-violent ambience”.