Dutch cannabis cafes in dock

2013-06-12 19:12
The Mississippi-style river barge coffee shop floating on a river in Maastricht, after being forced to close for allegedly selling drugs to non-resident.  (Nicolas Delaunay, AFP)

The Mississippi-style river barge coffee shop floating on a river in Maastricht, after being forced to close for allegedly selling drugs to non-resident. (Nicolas Delaunay, AFP)

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The Hague - Dutch prosecutors on Wednesday sought up to one-month suspended jail terms for owners and staff of cannabis cafes in southern city Maastricht for selling pot to foreigners in defiance of a controversial law.

"The public prosecution has asked for [sentences of] community service of 150 hours, fines of up to €5 000 and one month suspended prison sentences against sellers at three coffee shops in Maastricht," the Public Prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The seven owners and staff went on trial on Wednesday for selling cannabis to customers, mainly from Germany and Belgium, who constitute two-thirds of coffee shops' clientele, thereby breaking the law which allows for sales to locals only.

Coffee shops in Maastricht, a Roman city of 120 000 conveniently wedged between the borders of Belgium and Germany, now hope the case will set a clear legal precedent.

At the root of the chaos is a controversial law introduced in May 2012 requiring coffee shops to cater only for Dutch residents in the hope of addressing the downsides of drug tourism - traffic jams, street dealing and rowdy late-night partying.

A new, more left-wing government said in November that individual city authorities could decide whether to apply the law affecting some 650 establishments nationwide, according to their economic or social priorities.

Most Dutch cities, including those in Amsterdam, said they did not want to apply the law, while Maastricht and other southern cities said they would do so.

Confrontation with the coffee shops followed on the streets, in the courts and in the media.

Technically illegal

Maastricht's hangouts to get high were emboldened following a court ruling on 25 April that city authorities should not have ordered the closure of one of its best-known establishments, the Easy Going coffee shop.

The Easy Going was ordered shut last year after it was caught selling to tourists.

Members of the Maastricht Coffee Shop Association (VOCM) comprising 13 of the city's 14 coffee shops resumed selling to tourists in May.

But police raids, seizures, closure orders and prosecutions followed, and after the latest police bust at four coffee shops last weekend, all 13 VOCM members have now shut up shop.

Although cannabis is technically illegal in The Netherlands, the country in 1976 decriminalised possession of less than 5g of the drug.

Read more on:    netherlands  |  narcotics

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