Wednesday the 4th of September 2013 was an impressive day in the ongoing story of the new Dutch cannabis policy. On this day the magistrate of Maastricht had to pronounce judgment upon six coffeeshop owners and eight staff members who were on trial for selling cannabis to foreigners not registered as living in the Netherlands. This was made illegal in the Netherlands on the 1st of May 2012 as a measure to reduce drug tourism in the southern areas of the country.
Wednesday the 4th of September 2013 was an impressive day in the ongoing story of the new Dutch cannabis policy. On this day the magistrate of Maastricht had to pronounce judgment upon six coffeeshop owners and eight staff members who were on trial for selling cannabis to foreigners not registered as living in the Netherlands. This was made illegal in the Netherlands on the 1st of May 2012 as a measure to reduce drug tourism in the southern areas of the country. Although in a similar case earlier this year the same court delivered a guilty verdict, this time the defendants were acquitted, and the Crown Prosecution was declared inadmissible. This introduces a new chapter in the legal battles over the Netherlands’ new cannabis policy, which is creating more problems, is hardly bringing solutions and is costing taxpayers a lot of money.
No penal interest
The magistrate concluded the prosecution is inadmissible because he is unable to explain and interpret the new Dutch cannabis legislation that became effective last year. According the magistrate various experts disagree on whether the sale of cannabis to foreigners should be banned. The court is aware of the fact that the ban was introduced to reduce nuisance caused by drug tourism, but “it is questionable whether this target will be reached”, said the magistrate. “There is no doubt that drug runners and street dealers are causing nuisance. It is possible that the problem is even bigger than before. It is clear to me that the local government, the Prosecution and the coffeeshop owners all have an interest in legal clarity. In this case there is a group of coffeeshop owners who are willing to find a way to regulate the selling of soft drugs in the most appropriate way possible. Therefore, that it is incomprehensible that almost all coffeeshop owners would be prosecuted,” the magistrate declared.
The magistrate believes that it is not a criminal, but a governmental interest being served in this case, “and that is not the intention of our criminal law system”. Briefly, the magistrate concludes that both the cannabis laws and their implementation are unclear, and he wonders openly whether the new cannabis policy is a solution to the nuisance, or is causing even more inconvenience. The Prosecution has indicated that it will bring the case to a higher court.
Not only the magistrate has spoken out against this lack of clarity. Various party members of the PvdA (the Dutch Labor Party) have also denounced the current situation and the confusion it is causing. Among them are MPs Lea Bouwmeester and Manon Fokke. They have called upon the Minister of Justice, Ivo Opstelten, to clarify these matters as soon as possible. They also have asked the minister to publish a document with all previous judicial decisions made on this topic.
On the same Wednesday the local PvdA department in Maastricht sent a letter to the Mayor of this city, Onno Hoes. The letter was signed by party chairman Frans Bastiaens and councilor Antoine Lune and asks Hoes to clarify the quirky way he communicates, according to the Labour Party. Hoes promised the local government to keep them updated at all times about all developments regarding (his) decisions on the issues around cannabis issues. So far that has not happened once, according to the Party, and therefore they are unable to answer questions from citizens. They write: “We are sorry, therefore, to conclude that the Council should appear to represent the policy and yet we are often left tongue-tied when asked about the whys and wherefores of the actions of our mayor.” The agreement was that the Council would receive a monthly report, yet Bastiaens and Van Lune state that there has been no form of communication since then.
Acquittal of Josemans
But there is more. Marc Josemans, chairman of the Vereniging Officiële Coffeeshops Maastricht (=Official Coffeeshops Association of Maastricht) and an important figure in the fight against the new cannabis policy, received even more good news on Wednesday when he was acquitted of advertising soft drugs. In May this year Josemans distributed a leaflet to inform the neighborhood of his coffeeshop Easygoing about all the affairs in Maastricht concerning the local cannabis policy. The prosecution found that this was advertising and demanded a 4,000 euro fine, half conditional. The defense made clear that this had nothing to do with advertising, the only intent was to inform, and the judge agreed.
On top of all this the recreation news website Pretwerk (=Fun Works) released an article on Wednesday about a completed study showing that the number of tourists that are visiting Maastricht is slowly declining. The city dropped down from the fifth to the seventh place on the list of popular shopping cities. There is no mention of cannabis or coffeeshops in the report, but Sensi Seeds is hearing and reading a lot about tourist numbers dropping because of the new cannabis policy in the southern parts of the Netherlands. For this reason the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, made a statement last year saying that he will not punish coffeeshops that sell to non-residents, as soon as the new cannabis policy is introduced nationwide. In the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant he stated: “The one and a half million tourists [visiting Amsterdam each year, Ed.] are not going to say: well we just won’t buy weed. They will spread out over the city to search for drugs. This will lead to more robberies, fights over fake drugs and no control over the quality of the drugs. All problems we had in the past will come back to us.”
The end is a long way from being in sight regarding the new cannabis legislation in the Netherlands. While even the federal government of the United States recently made a positive statement on cannabis legalization, the once revolutionary and liberal cannabis policy in the Netherlands is going backwards in leaps and bounds. Sensi Seeds will of course continue to follow all developments closely.