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Netherlands to close cannabis cafes to tourists, impose restrictions on Dutch

In a bid to curb drug tourism, the Dutch government will ban tourists from buying or using cannabis in coffee shops

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A tourist smokes a marijuana joint in Amsterdam. By the end of 2011, tourists will be banned from buying cannabis in Amsterdam's famed "coffee shops." (CONTINENTAL/AFP/Getty Images)

In a bid to clamp down on drug tourism, the Dutch government said Friday that it will ban tourists from buying cannabis in "coffee shops" and impose restrictions on Dutch citizens by the end of the year.

Under the new regulations, the coffee shops will operate like private clubs, each with about 1,500 members. In order to qualify as a member, applicants must be adult Dutch citizens, and they will have to sign up for a membership of at least one year, the Atlantic Wire reported.

The Netherlands is known as having one of the most liberal soft-drug policies, and the country's cannabis cafes, where the sale and use of cannabis is tolerated, have become popular tourist attractions, pulling in millions of tourists a year. But concerns about criminal behavior and drug tourism have risen in recent years. Backed by far-right political leaders, the coalition government that came into power last year announced plans to curb drug tourism as part of a nationwide program to promote health and fight crime, Reuters reported.

"In order to tackle the nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drug trafficking, the open-door policy of coffee shops will end," the Dutch health and justice ministers wrote in a letter to the country's parliament on Friday.

Many people are concerned about the threat the move may pose to tourism in the Netherlands, and particularly in Amsterdam, where there are 220 of the coffee shops. The Amsterdam City Council opposes the plan, UPI reported. Ministers say they expect the closure of coffee shops to tourists will lead to a reduction in drug-related tourism, DutchNews.nl reported, but measures will be taken by police and officials to make sure the move does not lead to an increase in street dealing.

The policy will begin in the southern provinces of Limburg, Noord Brabant and Zeeland by the end of the year and the rest of the country next year, a justice ministry spokesman said. Maastricht has already closed its coffee shops to tourists because of the concerns about nuisance and criminal activity, while the border towns of Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom have gotten rid of their coffee shops, DutchNews.nl said.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/benelux/110528/netherlands-ban-cannabis-tourism