New Dutch laws to stub out the sale of cannabis to foreign dope tourists kicked in yesterday -- and were met with defiance from southern coffee shops including in Maastricht.
At least one coffee shop in the southern city continued sales to Belgian and German buyers in contravention of the new "cannabis card" rules -- and was promptly slapped with a police warning to stop sales to non-residents within 24 hours.
"People, you can come inside without a cannabis card. We are open to everybody," Marc Josemans, owner of the Easy Going coffee shop told his clientele as they lined up outside his place.
Josemans, who has been spearheading a pro-pot drive to get the new Dutch laws scrapped, opened his doors at around 11:15 am local time to some 20 customers, at least two from Belgium and one from Germany.
"I think the cannabis card is discriminatory and trouble in the streets will grow in the weeks to come," Josemans said as his customers bought the Dutch maximum legal quantity of five grammes of marijuana before leaving.
A few hours later with a police warning in hand, Joseman remained defiant, saying "obviously I will not stop sales" to foreigners. Some 14 other coffee shops in the popular tourist city kept their doors closed in protest.
"We prefer to smoke a joint," one customer, a 25-year-old woman from Liege in Belgium said as she left Joseman's shop, adding: "If we can't do it legally in the Netherlands, we will do it illegally", buying it off the street.
Famous for decades for its laid-back attitude toward cannabis, the Netherlands will now require so-called coffee shops in some regions to only sell to signed-up members who live in the country, not to foreign visitors.
The tougher rules, set to take effect nationwide from next year, effectively turn coffee shops into private clubs with no more than 2000 members, who must be over 18 and legal residents of the country.
Starting Tuesday in three provinces, coffee shops must turn away those without "weed passes", which allow locals and foreigners living in the country to enter and light up.
A last-minute challenge seeking to declare the law discriminatory by coffee shop owners -- including in the Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland provinces on the Belgian and German borders -- failed last week.
Elsewhere, in the university city of Tilburg, coffee shops like the Toermalijn (tourmaline) received a warning from the municipality after Belgians were allowed inside and local users did not put their name on a list, Dutch news agency ANP reported.
Some coffee shops however like the upmarket The Grass Company, also in Tilburg however said it will adhere to the new laws.
"I have had a huge number of Belgians, Germans, Poles and some French and I had unfortunately to show them the door," its manager Jasper Rutten said.
Many local residents have welcomed the change, saying they have had enough of traffic jams, nocturnal disturbances and drug pushers catering to the millions of foreign visitors drawn by the relaxed cannabis laws.
Maastricht, a popular destination for some 1.4 million "drug tourists" every year from Germany, France and Belgium, said last week it was ready to enforce the "weed-pass" legislation.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has for years prepared the ground for making the "cannabis card" obligatory when visiting one of the country's 670 licensed coffee shops.
Although cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, the country in 1976 decriminalised possession of less than five grammes of the substance under a so-called tolerance policy.
Belgium meanwhile has stepped up police cooperation with their Dutch counterparts over the issue, the interior ministry said Tuesday.
"This new policy of The Netherlands can have side effects in Belgium such as more cannabis planting, illegal sales moving (across the border) or more touts looking for potential customers on the highways," Interior Minister Joelle Milquet said in a statement.
Dutch and Belgian police are stepping up their cooperation as well as their presence along the border, and will conduct more frequent checks on roads and railways, she said.