Dutch towns want to legalise cannabis production

Two southern Dutch towns have called for the legalisation, under strict conditions, of cannabis production to thwart criminal gangs operating on the border with Belgium and Germany.

On Thursday, Christian Democrat mayor Gerd Leers of Maastricht, one of the towns calling for legalisation, will defend his plan in the European Parliament in a special session dedicated to drugs policies in the European Union.

“I think that a regulated production [of cannabis] would drive out a lot of the criminal activity,” Leers said.

As the mayor of Maastricht, close to both Germany and Belgium, Leers is confronted each year with 1,5-million so-called drug tourists attracted by the famed Dutch cannabis cafés known as coffee shops.

A typically Dutch invention, these special cafés are authorised to sell up to 5g of cannabis to people older than 18.

Since 1976, The Netherlands has made a distinction between soft and hard drugs. For soft drugs, such as cannabis, the consumption and sale in the special coffee shops are decriminalised.

Hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin remain strictly illegal.

“The drugs policy is very schizophrenic because although it is legal for coffee-shops to sell cannabis, the production is illegal. It is like telling a baker that he can sell bread but is not allowed to buy flour,” Leers said.

The influx of foreign drugs tourists to Maastricht, mostly from France and Belgium, causes many local residents to set up lucrative illegal cannabis plantations in their basement or attic.

“Tens of thousands of families at the bottom of the social scale come into contact with criminal behaviour this way,” according to the mayor.

Despite a police crackdown on illegal plantations in the past months in Maastricht, the problems continue.

That is why Leers calls for the legalisation of the production of cannabis in order to control and regulate better the supply chain of coffee shops to fight against illegal plantations and illegal trade in soft drugs.
He says he hopes that regulating the production will also make it financially less attractive to start a cannabis plantation.

Toine Greser, the mayor of nearby Heerlen, has proposed that the Dutch state regulates cannabis production much like it regulates casinos in The Netherlands.

This way, the money earned from the legal sale of cannabis can be used to finance the fight against organised drug crime.

Maastricht and Heerlen hope that the EU justice ministers will approve a pilot project to legalise cannabis production.

“If we all just stick our heads in the sand, things will get much worse,” Leers said.

Opponents of Leers’s plans, mostly in Belgium, argue that Maastricht and The Netherlands are the victims of their own tolerant drug policies.

“If there were no coffee shops, the French and the Belgians that come to Maastricht to stock up on drugs would not come to the region and the drug trafficking would be less concentrated here,” said Huub Broers, mayor of the Belgian town Voeren, 20 minutes from Maastricht.

This little rural community has had its fill of drug-related crimes, with shoot-outs between Yugoslav drug gangs on illegal plantations.

However, Leers is convinced that “thinking that closing down coffee shops will put an end to the criminal activities linked to the drugs trade is an illusion”.

“If you close coffee shops, the drugs trade will go underground ... because the demand will not disappear,” the Maastricht mayor said.

He denounced the majority of European countries that have effectively decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis but close their eyes as to how their nationals get the drugs.

“If The Netherlands were to close their coffee shops, several countries will be faced with their own problems because the demand will not go away,” he warned.—Sapa-AFP

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