EU court to rule on Dutch cannabis tourists ban
A Dutch coffee shop owner says a ban on selling dope to foreigners contravenes EU free trade laws
A Dutch coffee shop owner is challenging a ban on the sale of cannabis to tourists – saying it is a breach of European Union free-trade rules.
Marc Josemans, owner of the Easy Going coffee shop in Maastricht, was charged by police in 2006 after two tourists were found enjoying his wares, in breach of a by-law banning cannabis sales to foreigners. Der Spiegel reports that the case has gone through the Dutch courts and now awaits a ruling from the European Court of Justice. In the meantime, Maastricht has stopped enforcing the by-law.
Since cannabis was decriminalised in the Netherlands, Maastricht, situated on the Belgian border – and just 30 minutes’ drive from Germany - has become a popular destination for drug users from nearby states which enforce a total ban. The Netherlands has come under pressure from other EU countries to tighten its liberal cannabis laws – with Belgium, for instance, keen to end the scourge of French citizens driving through its territory under the influence or with bootloads full of contraband.
Josemans argues that the Maastricht clampdown is in contravention of EU law which guarantees a free market in commodities and services. Discriminating between Dutch citizens and other EU citizens, he says, breaches these free trade agreements.
Josemans’s main problem is that cannabis isn’t actually a legal commodity in the Netherlands: it is strictly regulated and can only be sold in coffee shops. Another issue muddying the waters is that of the legal activities of coffee shops – selling drinks – and the fact that they are taxed by the government, both of which give these establishments a veneer of legitimacy.
Josemans will take heart from a legal precedent set by a case involving another Dutch tourist attraction - prostitution - back in 2001. Polish prostitutes in Amsterdam had been refused work permits because their trade was not a regular job. The ECJ ruled that sex workers were entitled to employment in any EU country where prostitution was tolerated – and that was before Poland was even a member of the EU.
The ECJ has not given a date for a ruling, but says it will come to a decision as quickly as possible. ·
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