May Day is a celebration rooted in both the ancient pagan (honoring Spring) and the post-modern political (International Workers Day), so it seemed fitting that both tourists and coffeeshop owners in the Netherlands banded together on Tuesday to voice their collective opposition to the law that went into effect that day prohibiting all sales of cannabis to foreigners and only permitting a restricted number of registered local citizens to purchase pot.
In the southern Dutch city of Maastricht demonstrators proudly displayed signs that read “Dealers Wanted” and ‘Stop Discrimination For Belgium” (even though Belgium neighbors the Netherlands, Belgians will likewise be banned from crossing the border to catch a buzz).
In Maastricht’s main square, several hundred protesting potheads gathered for an old-school sit-in and smoked joint after joint, accompanied by a six-foot long faux doobie. Maastricht’s Easy Going coffeeshop completely closed its doors in protest of the ban, while some 300 coffeeshop owners and related interests presented a signed petition against the new law to Maastricht Mayor Onno Hoes.
In the town of Tilburg, Willem Vugs, owner of the ‘t Oermelijn coffeeshop told Reuters he was selling cannabis to any customer who entered his establishment. Vugs said he actually welcomes being prosecuted for illegal marijuana sales in order to test the ban before the court system, and other coffeeshop owners are reportedly also planning to openly challenge it.
Beyond the potential compromise of civil liberties and the sudden increase in “street dealers” peddling pot, the new Netherlands law threatens to seriously impact the economic viability of the coffeeshops and even the cities where they’re located.
Under the newly enacted legislation a given coffeeshop can only sell cannabis to up to 2,000 registered members with a local address – before the ban, these same shops welcomed hundreds of different customers from Europe – and around the world – every day.
For the rest of the year, the coffeeshop ban is only being enforced in the southern provinces near the German and Belgian borders, but in 2013 it will apply nationwide.