Dutch govt scraps 'weed pass' for coffee shops

November 20, 2012 - 10:33 AM
Netherlands Pot Cafes

FILE - In this Friday April 20, 2012 file photo a man smokes a marijuana joint during a protest against a government plan to stop foreigners from buying marijuana in the Netherlands. The new Dutch government is scrapping a planned "weed pass" designed to keep foreigners out of the nation's cannabis-selling coffee shops. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said late Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 that the passes are being immediately scrapped. Placard reads: "We Want No Weed Pass". (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dope-selling coffee shops in Amsterdam won't be shutting their doors to foreign visitors any time soon, a huge relief to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who enjoy a toke or two in the Dutch capital alongside their excursions on the canals and to the museums.

Amsterdam welcomed Tuesday changes in the national government's drug policies as a green light to let tourists keep rolling in to the city's 220 world famous cafes that sell cannabis, marijuana and pre-rolled joints alongside cups of coffee.

On Monday night, Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten sent a letter to Parliament announcing he was scrapping a nationwide rollout of the so-called "weed pass" that was designed to keep non-Dutch residents out of coffee shops.

Beginning earlier this year in the south of the country, locals had to apply for a pass to get into such shops, but non-Dutch residents were barred in an effort to crack down on crime and traffic problems caused by people travelling from neighboring countries like Germany and Belgium to buy produce they could not legally get their hands on back home.

Opstelten says he still wants only Dutch residents allowed into coffee shops, but is leaving it up to local authorities to enforce the ban.

"We are happy with the plans presented by Minister Opstelten because he is focused on trying to decrease criminality around coffee shops," Amsterdam municipality spokeswoman Tahira Limon told The Associated Press. "He also said that cities or municipalities have room to look at what works for them and for Amsterdam this also means tourists can continue to visit coffee shops."

Coffee shops have been tolerated for years in the Netherlands. Advocates argue they reduce crime and health problems by regulating the sale of soft drugs.

Limon said the new policy "gives us room to actually make sure we do what is best for Amsterdam and that is allowing tourists (to visit coffee shops) because if we don't do that we fear there would be an increase in illegal street trade that comes with safety and health risks."

In the new policy, Opstelten also announced that coffee shops will be banned from selling cannabis and marijuana containing more than 15 percent THC, the naturally occurring chemical that gives marijuana smokers a high.