Amsterdam is closing down 43 coffeeshops. At the same time mayor Cohen insists the city is standing by its three-decade old policy of tolerating 'soft drug' sales. The announcement coincides with a meeting of city mayors from throughout the Netherlands to discuss pressing problems with the current Dutch drug policy.
Amsterdam currently has 228 'coffeeshops' where the sale and use of small amounts of marijuana and hashish is permitted.
One of those due to be closed down is The Bulldog, an icon among tourists that is housed in a former police headquarters in the heart of the city. American tourist Dan, from Michigan, says he's shocked by the news that the Bulldog will have to close its doors for good.
"It makes me wonder if I'll come back. When I come over here, I fly 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometres), spend probably 4,000 euros while I'm here. Twice a year. I'll go elsewhere. And I have four Canadian buddies I want to meet later this afternoon - we're meeting here. This is the place to meet."
- On the agenda at today's "weed summit" in Almere are the top-ten issues relating to soft drugs policy. At the top of the list is drug tourism. Many border towns are unhappy at the nuisance caused by tourists visiting the Netherlands to buy cannabis, and the travelling drug dealers who chase after the tourists trying to sell them both soft and hard drugs.
- One option to deal with nuisance caused by drug tourism is to locate coffeeshops close to the border, away from towns. This is highly unpopular with neighbouring countries. Another is to introduce a pass system, only allowing local residents to buy cannabis.
- Cannabis is not legal in the Netherlands, but it can be sold freely in small amounts in licensed 'coffeeshops'. Paradoxically, it remains strictly illegal for the coffeeshops to buy in their supplies of cannabis wholesale. Many say this maintains the link between soft drugs and organised crime.
- Supporters of the Dutch approach point out that cannabis consumption in the Netherlands is lower than in surrounding European countries, which still operate a purely repressive policy.
The closures in Amsterdam occur against the backdrop of a major meeting in Almere, near the capital city, where several Dutch mayors are discussing local problems with drug policy. The so-called 'weed summit' was called a7fter two southern Dutch towns announced the forced closing of all coffeeshops within their municipal limits.
Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen strongly favours the current tolerance policy, but he faces growing opposition from rightwing and moderate parties including the powerful Christian Democrats.
The reason for Amsterdam's sudden about-face is a new national government policy, which dictates that coffeeshops will not be allowed to operate within 250 meters of a school. The Bulldog coffee shop is a short distance from a high school called the Barlaeus Gymnasium.
School Principal Margriet Bosman admits that some of her pupils frequent coffeeshops, but not The Bulldog, she says. Her school has held talks with the management of the coffee shop to ensure that all customers are checked to ensure they are at least 18 years of age. She takes a dim view of the city's new measure.
"We don't think it's very useful. We actually think it's just for show. Children will get their drugs if they want to anyway, and closing the shops which are quite regulated, like The Bulldog, is not a very good solution to this problem."
But one pupil at the Barlaeus Gymnasium is convinced some of her classmates do buy cannabis at the Bulldog. And she's pretty sure they won't be pleased by the news.
"Yeah, I think so because we go to a school where lots of people smoke joints and that kind of stuff, so I think they won't like it very much that The Bulldog is closing."