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The shops would also have to say where they bought the marijuana they sell, which proponents say will deter growers from operating dangerous underground greenhouses. Authorities also look the other way regarding the open sale of cannabis in designated coffee shops. But commercial growing is outlawed, giving rise to a contradictory system in which shop owners have no legal way to purchase their best-selling product. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende and his ruling Christian Democrat Party said regulating marijuana cultivation would set the Netherlands another step apart from the rest of the continent.

The Justice Ministry has ordered an investigation into whether the plan would violate international law. The findings are expected within several days. The coalition of parties gave Balkenende until Dec. They said about two-thirds of parliament members support the plan. Aboard the Mississippi Boat, moored off the banks of the Maas river, the management has suddenly come over publicity-shy. If the policy is upheld in the courts, it could, eventually, be extended nationwide. Their fate is likely to determine the future of Dutch policy towards cannabis.

The fact that these experiments are taking place in this, historic, city is no coincidence.

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Within easy driving distance of Belgium, Germany and France, Maastricht has proved a magnet for smokers eager to take advantage of liberal laws. In their wake a trade in illicit cannabis and harder drugs has grown up, accompanied by a rise in crime. Spurred on by complaints from police and residents, the Mayor of Maastricht, Geerd Leers, has decided that enough is enough. If Mr Leers gets his way, a new by-law will soon require all those who visit coffee shops to show identity cards proving that they are residents.

Initially, the law will be enforced only in one coffee shop which will, if necessary, take the case all the way to the European Court of Justice. But, if it loses, foreigners could be banned for all coffee shops in the Netherlands. Though they still support the principle of legalising limited use of cannabis, they believe bold steps are needed to tackle its unwelcome consequences here.

There is intimidation, there are efforts to persuade people to buy [hard] drugs. They are trying to sell cocaine, ecstasy or heroin. Sometimes there is rowdy behaviour. Some of the coffee shops are in residential areas and people no longer like living there.

Naturally it was not meant to be like this; the whole point of coffee shops was to bring the use of soft drugs out of the sphere of influence of the criminal gangs. Though several nations have relaxed their laws on soft drugs, the Netherlands leads the way in regulating their sale. Coffee shops are licensed and no alcohol can be sold or consumed in them.

But this has been achieved through a contradictory law. Technically all drugs are illegal in the Netherlands though coffee shops are permitted to sell a maximum of five grammes of cannabis without facing prosecution. While it is an offence to produce, possess, sell, import or export hard drugs or cannabis, it is not illegal to use drugs. That means it is legal for a customer to buy five grammes of cannabis in a coffee shop, but it is illegal for the shop to acquire the stock to sell.

While the law has decriminalised those who use cannabis in small quantities it has not done the same for those who grow it or buy it into their coffee shops. Maastricht is in the front line because of the massive demand from German, Belgian and French day-trippers. According to the police, the south Limburg region of the Netherlands has an estimated 1. Peter Tans, head of communications for the Maastricht police, says that, of the estimated 21, people charged with crimes this year in south Limburg, 4, will be foreigners. To supply the demand at coffee shops — inflated by foreigners — Maastricht now supports a massive, subterranean cannabis-producing industry.

In the city this year 78kg of cannabis has been seized and 43, adult cannabis plants destroyed. Much of this had been farmed out to low-income households under the supervision of gangs. Police raid homes around the city when alerted by the power companies of electricity surges of the type required to run the lamps for cannabis plants usually power supplies are diverted illegally. More alarmingly, the police fear that this subculture is making Maastricht fertile territory for gangs dealing in hard drugs.

Between January and October , police in the city made arrests in 23 raids, seizing 10kg of heroin, 1. It means , man-hours every year if policemen are needed just to deal with the drugs problem. The first was to clamp down gradually on the number of coffee shops.

Each one must be licensed and Maastricht has refused new approvals so that, when owners leave or die, their businesses close. In the early to mids Maastricht boasted 30 coffee shops; it now has just over half that number. But with that failing to solve the problem, the city is adopting two, radically different, policies in addition to the effort to stop foreigners being served in coffee shops. The Mayor is leading a push to shift some of the coffee shops out of the city centre.

Mr Leers wants to create three drive-in centres on main roads away from the heart of Maastricht and from residential areas to service the demand from drug tourists. Nevertheless, the authorities know their residents-only policy on cannabis will not be enforced for at least two years because of the time the legal test case will take.

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Moreover they want to start straight away on the drive-in plans in case the bar on non-residents proves to be against European law preventing discrimination against EU citizens. Maastricht has offered to host an experiment in cultivating cannabis under strict supervision to supply local coffee shops and put criminal gangs out of business.

Though the logic of their policies suggests that the Netherlands should allow legal production of cannabis, ministers have always shrunk from such a step, knowing it would provoke an international storm. Local government recognises that fact but national government has to see that that is the next step. He wants to work with the city council to agree a plan for moving some of the coffee shops out of the city. However he points out that persuading owners to relocate is impossible if their shops might later be banned from serving non-residents.

Organised crime has big nurseries where they grow lower quality for higher prices. The idealism of our growers has gone. The guys we used to work with for 25 years are drawing back more and more. But while local government and the coffee shops agree that this is at the root of their problems, power to permit such an experiment rests in The Hague.

And that will leave the city trying to manage the consequences of a flawed drug law with two, contradictory, policies. It will start creating coffee shops for foreigners outside the city centre, while putting in place a law that could ban them from buying. Between 3 and 3.

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Amphetamine-based drug ecstasy ranked second among drugs of choice in several of the participating countries. Joints outclass other drugs.

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More than 62 million Europeans have smoked cannabis at one point or another in their lives, with consumption growing dramatically since the mid s. Drug-intolerant countries Sweden and Greece showed the lowest numbers in Europe on cannabis use. Filed under: Europe : A group of politicians and drugs experts is making a new attempt at decriminalising cannabis in Switzerland. Eighteen months after parliament threw out a similar plan the committee has collected enough signatures to force a nationwide vote on the issue. She says it makes no sense to treat the estimated , regular or occasional pot smokers — from all walks of life — like criminals.

The proposal foresees setting age limits for cannabis consumers or a licensing system for shops selling psychoactive hemp. Wyss said it was not calling for the outright legalisation of the cannabis trade, which is prohibited under an international agreement. Effective checks and controls of the trade were an essential element to be able to crack down on illegal dealers, Wyss added.

But she is concerned about recent statistics which show that Switzerland has one of the highest rates of young pot consumers in Europe and that the drug increased in popularity in the s. It must be clear that the measures are enforced, for cannabis and alcohol alike. Wyss, a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, is confident that a broad alliance with the centre-right Radicals and Christian Democrats could clear the air for a viable political compromise. In June the House of Representatives refused to follow the Senate in discussing proposed amendments to the law on narcotics.

The Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse has declined to comment on the details on the latest initiative, but it has come out in favour of decriminalising cannabis in principle. He believes the attitude in society towards drugs has changed in the recent past and people are keen to see more discipline in place.

We welcome increased police efforts to close illegal hemp shops. But clearly more needs to be done to stop children as young as 12 smoking cannabis. Proponents hope that Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, would act as a model for other countries. In response the government implemented its four-pillar strategy of repression, prevention, therapy and harm reduction.