THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A Dutch court on Wednesday ordered the government to compensate owners of cannabis-selling cafes who say they lost money because of measures aimed at stamping out drug tourism.
The court said that turning coffee shops in the southern Netherlands into private member-only clubs last year deterred not only foreigners but also Dutch customers, and ordered compensation for the cafe owners. The amount will be settled later.
The decision was the latest skirmish in a long-running legal battle between the government that wants officially tolerated coffee shops to sell cannabis only to locals, and owners of the cafes who insist they should be allowed to sell to anybody.
Cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but police turn a blind eye to possession of small amounts and it is sold openly in coffee shops. Large-scale growers are prosecuted.
Michael Veling, a spokesman for the Dutch Union of Cannabis Retailers, said the group was disappointed by the parts of the ruling that upheld anti-drug-tourism measures, and would appeal.
In a written reaction, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice called the judgment “a powerful underpinning of the present policy” and said it saw grounds to appeal the ruling that said turning coffee shops into private clubs was too harsh and unnecessary.
Under a government policy change that came into force May 1 last year in southern provinces close to the Dutch borders with Germany and Belgium, only holders of a “weed pass” are allowed to buy cannabis. The measure took aim at problems caused by thousands of foreigners who pour across the borders each year to buy drugs.
The government scrapped the pass in November, but continued its policy of allowing coffee shops to sell drugs only to Dutch residents.
However, it said local authorities would be responsible for enforcing the measure. Amsterdam, whose scores of coffee shops are a major tourist draw, immediately said it would continue to allow tourists to buy weed in the cafes.
By Mike Corder, The Associated Press