21st May 2019

Dutch can ban foreigners from coffeeshops, says EU top court

  • Pot does not benefit from EU freedom of movement rules, says the Court of Justice (Photo: wikipedia)

The town of Maastricht near the Belgian border is within its rights to ban foreigners from its marijuana coffeeshops, Europe's top court has said.

While the very foundation of the European Union is the free movement of people, meaning a country cannot forbid citizens of another EU state from doing something its own citizens are allowed to do, this does not apply to getting off your face on White Widow, according to the finding of an advocate-general with the European Court of Justice.

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In response to what it terms an influx of hordes of weed-seeking tourists, mainly from Belgium and France, the town of Maastricht decided to limit admission to coffeeshops to Dutch residents only.

Around 4000 tourists a day in search of weed enter Maastricht, according to the major of the town, with 70 percent of the town's coffeeshop business coming from non-Dutch residents.

In 2006, the Easy Going Coffeeshop in the town was subject to two police raids where citizens of the EU but not the Netherlands were caught imbibing the decriminalised substance. Shortly after, the major of Maastricht closed down the establishment.

In response, Marc Josemans, the owner and chair of the Association of Official Maastricht Coffeeshops, brought a legal challenge before the Dutch Council of State, arguing that the bylaw goes against European legislation on free movement and free trade in goods and services within the EU.

The Council asked the ECJ for its interpretation of EU law, which the court will then take into consideration in its ruling in the case expected at the end of this year. Although the judges are now beginning their deliberations, in a majority of cases, the court has ruled in line with the findings of its advocates general.

In his finding, the EU court's Advocate General Yve Bot said that narcotics do not count as regular goods because they are against the law.

"Narcotics, including cannabis, are not goods like others and their sale does not benefit from the freedoms of movement guaranteed by European Union law, inasmuch as their sale is unlawful," he said in his finding.

Nevertheless, he did say that in cases of their medical or scientific use, dope does indeed "come under internal market rules."

The court's finding argued that Maastricht was was right to view drug tourism as "a genuine and sufficiently serious threat to public order," and so the restriction of foreigners from coffeeshops "constitutes a measure necessary to protect the residents of the municipality from trouble."

The finding also warned that backpackers heading to the Netherlands for a weekend of spliffs and Heineken endangered the European Union's security.

"Drug tourism, in so far as it conceals, in actual fact, international trade in narcotics and fuels organised criminal activities, threatens even the European Union's internal security."

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