Coffee shop owners fight cannabis ban for tourists

Dutch coffee shop owners have gone to court to fight the introduction of a "cannabis card" next month to stop foreigners from buying the drug in the country, a court says.

"A request for an interim application was heard before the court," said Saskia Panchoe, spokeswoman for The Hague district court where 19 coffee shop owners lodged their case against what they termed "discriminatory measures."

Judges will give a written decision on April 27, Panchoe said.

New cannabis-for-locals-only laws are to roll out on May 1 in three southern Dutch provinces - North Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland on the Belgian and German borders - and in the rest of the Netherlands in 2013.

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has since September 2010 been weighing a "cannabis card", reserved for residents only and obligatory when visiting one of the country's 670 licenced coffee shops.

Dutch coffee shops will now become closed clubs allowed up to 2000 members from among residents, including foreigners, living in the Netherlands and aged over 18.

The move, which coffee shop owners say would harm an industry that has been a drawcard for travellers for years, was taken to protect locals against the nuisance of drug tourism and criminality, authorities said.

Dutch residents have long complained about the impact of drug tourism including pollution, traffic jams, noise at night and a proliferation of hard-drug dealers on the streets.

"This is a discriminatory measure," said Andre Beckers, one of the four lawyers who represent the 19 coffee shops, located in the country's 19 judicial districts as well as two pro-cannabis organisations.

"These 19 coffee shops have been selected to represent the whole country and it is clear that many other coffee shops support the action," Beckers said.

Though cannabis is technically illegal, the Netherlands decriminalised the possession of less than five grams of the substance in 1976 under a so-called "tolerance" policy.

AFP

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