Maastricht marijuana is for locals only, rules EU

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The Independent Online

No drugs please, you're foreigners.

The Dutch city of Maastricht is within its legal rights to ban tourists from buying marijuana in its coffee shops, a senior EU official has ruled.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice decided that the right to free trade and free movement within the European Union has its limits. It cannot be applied to illegal substances such as marijuana, Yves Bot ruled yesterday.

If the ruling is upheld by the European Court in the next few months, the decision will allow the Dutch city to maintain a five-year-old ban on cannabis sales to tourists from neighbouring countries. Other Dutch cities may then follow suit.

The Netherlands has tolerated small over-the-counter sales of marijuana through "coffee shops" for many years, even though the drug remains illegal.

Marc Josemans, chairman of the Association of Official Maastricht Coffee Shops, challenged the by-law in a Dutch court. The Dutch sought the opinion of the European Court.

Maastricht had a right, Mr Bot said, to regard the 20,000 foreigners a day visiting the town as a "genuine and sufficiently serious threat to public order". The by-law was therefore "necessary ... in the face of troubles caused by drug tourism" and also helped to "combat the illicit trade in narcotics in the EU".