Controversy over public cannabis consumption is brewing again in the Netherlands. This time, however, it’s not the nation’s famed “coffee shops” that are in hot water. Rather, it’s their noisy English-speaking clientele, who’ve apparently been annoying enough to prompt one city to take action. Responding to mounting complaints from residents, The Hague has put the kibosh on public smoking in its most popular areas. And as the Netherlands bans public cannabis consumption in this city centre, a popular tourist destination, other municipalities are considering the same.
Goodbye to Gedoogbeleid?
Over the years, the Netherlands has earned a reputation as one of the most drug-friendly nations on the planet. That’s because, despite its illegality, official policy openly tolerates cannabis use, possession and trade.
That policy goes by the name gedoogbeleid; literally, a “tolerance policy.” The Netherlands’ Opium Law divides drugs into two classes, hard and soft. Soft drugs, like marijuana, hash and sedatives fall under gedoogbeleid. Hard drugs do not, and the Netherlands aggressively prosecutes their trade and consumption.
The open “tolerance policy” toward cannabis spawned an entire national economy of “coffee shops.” These establishments operate in a kind of grey area of the law. They can sell cannabis, and customers can consume the drug on the premises. But coffee shops just can’t produce the marijuana they sell.
Rarely frequented by local residents, coffee shops and gedoogbeleid are major tourist magnets, drawing thousands of visitors annually. The Netherlands has nearly 600 such shops, which reside in more than a quarter of all cities.
Officials in many of those cities have attempted to restrict the loose rules governing coffee shops. Their reasons are always similar. Tourists are getting too high, getting rowdy, and becoming a public nuisance.
In 2013, for example, the law changed to allow only Dutch residents to visit coffee shops. But the move drew sharp criticism from many cities.
Residents feared the residency requirement would tank the tourism industry bringing revenue into their cities. Ultimately, the laws ended up applying to just three cities.
Faced with the unpopularity of restricting the coffee shop economy, Dutch officials are going for a different approach. They want to ban public smoking in an effort to keep noisy, stoned tourists of the streets.
Tourists Beware: No More Public Smoking in The Hague
Cannabis-related public disturbances are on the rise in The Hague, the third largest city in the Netherlands. As a result, the city is experimenting with a two-year ban on public cannabis smoking in key areas.
The public consumption ban specifically impacts The Hague’s city centre, its central railway station, and all major shopping areas. In total, public cannabis use is prohibited in 13 public areas. These 13 areas are already subject to a ban on public alcohol consumption.
At first, politicians in The Hague wanted a city-wide ban on public cannabis consumption. Ultimately, however, they decided to target particularly high-traffic areas.
Police will enforce the ban and issue warning citations to anyone in violation of the new rules. Multiple violations carry the risk of a fine.
The Guardian reports that police will station themselves outside the doors of popular coffee shops to make sure no one leaves the premises with a lit joint.
The ban will stay in effect for two years, at which point city officials will re-evaluate the situation.
The Final Hit: The Netherlands Bans Public Cannabis Consumption in This City Centre
A spokesperson for Hague mayor Pauline Krikee said the ban was a response to “many complaints from residents and visitors” regarding the odor of cannabis smoke and the disturbances from cannabis users.”
“The mayor and police decided the use of soft drugs has a negative impact on the living environment,” the spokesperson added.
While other popular coffee shop cities in the Netherlands, like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, have banned public smoking near schools and playgrounds, The Hague is the first city to ban public consumption in a city centre or shopping district.