French tourists left the coffeeshops of Maastricht disappointed this weekend. Since Saturday the soft drug cafés have been refusing to sell cannabis to foreign tourists – except for Germans and Belgians. Visitors from other countries say it’s downright discrimination.
“It’s strange,” said one perplexed tourist. “What’s the difference between Germany and Luxembourg? I don’t understand.”
Each year 2.2 million people make their way to buy cannabis in Maastricht, sandwiched as it is between neighbouring Germany and Belgium. The trade causes traffic jams and nuisance in the street. With rightwing parties firmly in the saddle in The Hague, politicians have been demanding action to tackle the problem.
But it's not politicians that are barring the foreign weed smokers in Maastricht. The idea came from the coffeeshop proprietors themselves. It's an attempt to stave off political pressure.
As far as the coffeeshop owners are concerned, tourists don't cause the trouble anyway, says spokesman Marc Josemans.
“It’s the street dealers, the illegal drug runners. They approach our customers between the coffeeshop and the car park and offer them all sorts of stuff. These people are a danger in the neighbourhood because they’re threatening and aggressive.”
By 2013, half of the 14 coffee shops will have moved to the outskirts of the city, so foreigners will be allowed back in. The present measure is a temporary solution.
“I’m ashamed that I have to show the door to customers who’ve been coming to my coffeeshop for 28 years and have never caused any trouble,” says Marc Josemans. “But coffeeshops in the Netherlands are under heavy pressure from the present cabinet. The only thing we can do is make sure we can keep business going until a more realistic policy comes along – or a more realistic cabinet.”
The coffeeshops hope that their anti-tourist measure will deter the government from introducing a pass system whereby only Dutch citizens would be allowed to buy cannabis. This would only cause more trouble, says Marc Josemans, because it would stimulate illegal street dealing.
The nuisance around coffeeshops isn’t only an issue in Maastricht, but also in other Dutch towns and cities close to the border. They will no doubt be keeping a close eye on developments in Maastricht.