City fathers go to pot in Netherlands

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The Independent Online
Amsterdam (AP) - After decades of tolerating marijuana sales in local coffee shops, some Dutch towns have decided to go into the soft drugs business themselves.

"Of course we don't want people to use drugs, but that's not realistic ... this is a healthier solution," Delfzijl City Hall spokeswoman Marjon Edzes said yesterday.

Authorities in the northern harbour town of Delfzijl are spending 500,000 guilders (pounds 190,000) to open a soft-drugs shop on 1 September, modelled on a similar project in Bussum, outside Amsterdam.

Delfzijl's municipal marijuana outlet, operated by a special foundation, will be called Paradox - a reference to the contradictory Dutch drug policy.

Ms Edzes refused to disclose where the drugs will come from, except to say they will be supplied "behind [closed] doors." Trafficking is illegal, but that is where the nation's hundreds of coffee shops apparently get their supplies of marijuana and hashish.

As to the profits from Paradox, they'll be used to fund ongoing education campaigns on drug use.

Both hard and soft drugs are officially illegal in the Netherlands, but drug use is non-prosecutable. The small-scale sales of marijuana allowed in hundreds of officially sanctioned coffee shops in Holland are part of a police effort to fence the soft-drugs trade off from heroin and cocaine trafficking. Authorities have long maintained that this permissive policy has successfully discouraged hard drug use.

Officials in Delfzijl, a city of 31,000, claim they're doing just that by opening their own coffee shop. "This provides transparency and lifts the soft drugs from the illegal circle," Ms Edzes said.

Amsterdam leads the nation in the usage of soft drugs. But its City Hall is clamping down and cutting the number of coffee shops which are increasingly seen as an eyesore and a thorn in the side of the capital's international tourism industry.

In Delfzijl, customers will be offered free counselling, offering health information on drug use, as well as the drugs themselves. The city aims to shut down the city's two existing coffee shops once the municipal marijuana shop gets going.

The new store will be regularly patrolled by police to make sure it follows coffee shop regulations, which include no hard drugs and no sales to those under 18.