Is there a future for Dutch coffeeshops after the change in government?

The view of an insider: Coffeeshop owner Nol van Schaik explains the now and how of the Dutch coffeeshop policy from his knowhow.

The outcome of the recent Dutch elections sent a schockwave through Europe, as the Netherlands are now practically governed by Geert Wilders, the leader of the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV) and a pronounced opponent of the Islam. Wilders is not participating in our minority VVD/CDA government, although his party is part of the current coalition. Wilders 'tolerates' the two other parties to govern, giving them political support to get things done politically.
That is why our new government is called a Tolerance Cabinet, nothing goes without Wilders' consent, or tolerance. Right?

Wilders' Freedom Party is also against coffeeshops, cannabis and cannabis consumers. The Freedom Party stated their stance on the drug policy of the Netherlands in a oneliner in their election program: “ End of the Tolerance Policy. Closure of all coffeeshops. No more free heroin.”

We, the last 700 Dutch coffeeshop entrepreneurs, feared for the worse when Wilders became the big winner in the June 9 elections, even more so after the VVD could not get a coalition formed with the left wing parties, so, Mark Rutte, the VVD leader, had to reach out to Wilders to be able to govern. They finally agreed on the aformentioned Tolerance Cabinet of the VVD, the CDA and the Freedom Party as their non participating Tolerance Partner.

We had a short laugh about the irony in this outcome, Wilders Freedom Party, aiming at ending the Dutch Tolerance Policy, is now 'tolerating' the CDA and the VVD to govern our country.

After the VVD, CDA and PVV agreed on how they would try to govern the Netehrlands for the next 4 years, they came up with their Governing Agreement, generally announcing mayor cutbacks for the Dutch population, to get rid of the crisis.
Wilders' obviously had to water down on his strong stance towards coffeeshops and cannabis, the Tolerance policy towards coffeeshops stays intact, with some new restrictions.

The new Tolerance Government came up with two new rules for our worn out rulebook:

-Coffeeshops have to become member clubs, only Dutch inhabitants will be allowed to sign up, automatically exluding foreign visitors from Dutch coffeeshops, and the members will be restricted to buy in certain cities/areas.

-No coffeeshops within 350 meters from schools, nationwide. This would implicate that in Haarlem, where I exploit my coffeeshops, only 5 out of 16 coffeeshops could stay open on their present location.

The cannabis forums I frequent started to fill up with reactions on the new Dutch cannabis policy, most of them about how they were not going to Amsterdam anymore if that was to become reality, some of them to express their disbelieve about the fact they would no longer be allowed to buy and smoke cannabis in Dutch coffeeshops. I could not come up with a decent reply, so I did not react in those forums so far, I was in limbo, like them.

Meanwhile, I have gathered enough information to be able to come up with some facts versus the fiction going around since our new government came to power.

The government wants to order coffeeshops to refuse foreign visitors, in other words, they want us to discriminate people who are not living in the Netherlands by denying them the right to enter a coffeeshop to buy some cannabis and smoke a joint on the premises. This new rule is against the Law, and so is forcing people to discriminate. Coffeeshop entrepreneurs would sue their government for making them discriminate people, I would be the first, and I will win, we still have some rights in Holland. I do not discriminate, nor do I discriminate under force.
Any foreigner being refused entrance to a Dutch coffeeshop, based on his nationality, can sue the Dutch State for discrimination, especially the EU citizens. They will win, no Dutch members club can refuse members based on nationality, religion or skin color.

I found out that the intended pilot for such a Dutch member system, meant to be executed in Maastricht, where over 70 % of the visitors are non Dutch, has been turned down by both the City Council and the Union of Coffeeshops of Maastricht. So there will not be a pilot, let alone a follow up, probably because of the legal consequenses involved. This means no changes in that field, coffeeshops will stay open for those who want to enter, from all corners of the world. You are all welcome, if only you are over 18 and carry your ID to show so.

The distance criteria for coffeeshops have been up for discussion for years now, in Haarlem we have to maintain a 150 meters distance from high schools and any other cannabis coffeeshops. This was decided a few years ago, after there had been different criteria for coffeeshops in different areas. The Haarlem City Council will not comply with the new criteria, as it would have direct consequences for most coffeesshops, 11 of them would have to be moved to another location. The City can not afford to pay for them to move, as they are all profitable businesses, it would cost Haarlem millions to relocate them all. I can only speak for Haarlem, where coffeeshops will not be affected by the new governments demands, but in a democracy this would have to be the same in the rest of the country.

Besides all technicalities, it would not be smart to close the coffeeshops while trying to solve the economical crisis, the 700 remaining coffeeshops pay over 400.000.000,- euros per year in taxes!

I had expected worse, so I can only be relieved with ' only' these two 'new rules', we, the Dutch coffeeshop entrepreneurs, will survive, as always.

Nol van Schaik,
Founder, co-owner Willie Wortel Coffeeshops, Haarlem.

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