By Chris Bovey.
A Court in the Dutch city of Maastricht has ruled that the city’s Mayor, Onno Hoes, should not have closed coffeeshop Easy Going, on May 1st, 2012. Easy Going had refused to implement the Weedpass, which limits the access to coffeeshops to Dutch residents.
The Weedpass scheme was due to be implemented throughout the whole of The Netherlands on January 1st 2013, however, the Dutch Government backtracked and said it would be down to individual local authorities to decide whether to implement the ban on foreigners from buying cannabis from the coffeeshops, where the legal sale of cannabis has been tolerated since the 1970s
The hated scheme had much opposition in The Netherlands, with critics saying it would increase street dealing and hand the cannabis trade away from legitimate legal businesses to organised crime. They also feared it would be extremely damaging to the Dutch tourist industry, especially in places like Amsterdam where over a million tourists flock every year to enjoy the nation’s famous coffeeshops. The Mayor and Council of Amsterdam were radically opposed to the scheme.
In fact, much of The Netherlands did not implement the ban on foreigners from the coffeeshops, only parts of Southern Netherlands, near the borders of Germany and other European countries, placed a ban on non-Dutch nationals from purchasing cannabis.
Maastricht was one municipal area which did have such a ban on foreigners from buying cannabis and last year the coffeeshop, Easy Going, was closed down for refusing to implement the policy.
However, on Thursday April 24, 2013, a Court in Maastricht considered that the motivation used by Mayor Hoes was not sufficient. The Weedpass introduced an indirect distinction on the basis of nationality, yet international conventions have established that everyone, regardless of nationality, should be treated equally. The Court ruled that the Mayor should have made clear why it could not be possible to achieve the same results (reduction of public nuisance) with less extreme measures. The court referred to a plan to spread coffeeshops to the edge of town. In another procedure this plan had been presented by the City of Maastricht itself and should have been tested before starting to discriminate on the basis of nationality. In short, the Court said an extreme tool had been employed far too soon.
The members of the Official Association of Maastricht Coffeeshops, VOCM, pointed out that in northern parts of The Netherlands, Mayors do not enforce the criterium of residence, even though it was determined by the Minister of Justice this should have been the case since January 1st 2013 and onwards. This shows in practice the enforcement of this criterium is not an obligation.
Marc Josemans, president VOCM said: “The illegal street market in Maastricht is flourishing. Street dealers seem to become ever more smart in avoiding the police, but they do cause lots of problems in the neighbourhood.
“The 13 members of the VOCM will temporarily take the market out off the hands of the illegal dealers by opening their doors for all, including non-residents, on May 5th, 2013, which is Annual Liberation Day in The Netherlands. The goal of this action is to reduce public nuisance and protect the health of every cannabis consumer, regardless their nationality,” said Mr Josemand.