Amsterdam is being forced to close 43 of its 228 cannabis-selling cafes to meet national regulations, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen announced Friday at the presentation of a memorandum on the city's drugs policy.
The cafes, known as coffee shops, have to be closed down by the end of 2011 because they are less than 250 meters from high schools. The city currently has some 228 outlets selling marijuana under license.
The measure stems from national government rules on moving coffee shops away from schools attended by children over the age of 12. Last year, Rotterdam told 18 cafes they had to close down because of this rule.
One of those set to vanish from Amsterdam is the famous Bulldog cafe on the city’s Leidseplein which is housed in a former police station and was opened over 20 years ago. It is too close to the city's prestigious Barlaeus high school.
In an interview, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen makes it clear that he is following the government’s directive under duress. "It is possible that moving the coffee shops further away [from schools] will result in street trade and a growing number of drug runners. Young people could have easier access to drugs and it could also mean more work for the police," Cohen said.
Like the majority of mayors in towns where coffee shops sell cannabis, Cohen is happy with the existing policy on soft drugs but would like to see regulation of the whole cannabis trade. "I want an equal policy for soft drugs and alcohol," Cohen said.
At present the authorities turn an official blind eye to the sale and consumption of cannabis but ban the large-scale cultivation of marijuana plants and the wholesale trade.
Cohen is to call for the legalization of cannabis production at a “cannabis summit” of local councils in the central city of Almere later on Friday. This will make the sector easier to control and reduce the involvement of organized crime, he said.
Around 25 percent of tourists coming to Amsterdam visit a cannabis cafe, Cohen said. But these tourists cause much less of a nuisance than foreigners who drink alcohol, according to the mayor.
Cohen also argues that the Netherlands should not be afraid of the reaction of other countries to its tolerant policy on soft drugs, saying: "Research shows that young people in Amsterdam don't use more soft drugs than their peers in France, which has a repressive drug policy."