Foreign visitors will be banned from cannabis-selling coffee shops in southern Netherlands from January 1 to combat anti-social behaviour among tourists.
The Dutch justice ministry announced the ban after a consultation period and despite opposition from some MPs who branded the move ‘tourism suicide’.
Under the new policy licenced coffee shops will be considered private clubs with a maximum of 2,000 members limited to Dutch residents who are older than 18 and carry a co-called ‘dope card’.
The idea of a cannabis card was first suggested in September 2010 by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and will be required by Dutch visitors to frequent the country’s 670 licenced coffee shops.
‘The measure will come into force for the (southern) provinces of Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland, the provinces most affected by drug tourism, on January 1,’ said justice ministry spokeswoman Charlotte Menten.
The measures will come into force in the rest of the country – including Amsterdam – in January 2013.
The policy aims to cut down nocturnal disturbances and the number of drug pushers said to cater to the millions of foreign tourists who visit the Netherlands to take advantage of its relaxed marijuana laws.
There are about 220 coffee shops in Amsterdam, which have become a popular haunt for tourists visiting the city.
Several are located in the red light district, where prostitution is also legal.
There are fears that by banning foreigners from the cafes, Dutch residents, who are allowed to possess 5g of marijuana, could sell to tourists at massively inflated prices.
Some MPs have also argued that Amsterdam in particular could lose millions of pounds in tourism as visitors choose other destinations for their city breaks.
Despite complaints that banning foreigners was prejudiced, the European Court of Justice supported the decision, stating that it was justified ‘by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance’.
Though technically illegal, the Netherlands decriminalised the possession of less than .18 ounce of cannabis in 1976 under a so-called ‘tolerance’ policy.
Coffee shops, the first of which was called ‘Mellow Yellow’, were seen as a useful weapon in controlling the use of drugs in the 1970s.
They allowed people to walk in off the street and order their favourite brand of marijuana rather than giving money to a potentially flourishing black market.