EU judges back Dutch fight against drug tourism

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A Dutch town won the right to refuse cannabis to foreigners in a ruling by Europe's highest court that may curb drug tourism in the Netherlands.

The mayor of Maastricht – a southern Dutch town close to the borders of Germany and Belgium and not far from France – was right to close down a coffee shop that had been selling cannabis to non-residents, the European Court of Justice, the European Union's highest court, ruled on Thursday (16 December).

"A prohibition on admitting non-residents to coffee-shops […] constitutes a measure capable of substantially limiting drug tourism and, consequently, of reducing the problems it causes," the Luxembourg-based court said in its judgement.

The owner of the coffee shop, called 'Easy Going', had asked for an overturning of a 2005 decision by the town's mayor to stop foreigners buying drugs in the town's cafes.

The rejection of the owner's claim is likely to encourage other cities to follow suit. Dutch public opinion and the conservative government are increasingly hostile to drug sales.

The Netherlands is the only country in the 27-state European Union where soft drug sales are tolerated. Possession of soft drugs for personal use has been decriminalised, and their sale, though prohibited by law, is tolerated in the coffee shops.

Maastricht is a favourite destination for soft drug users, and 70% of cannabis sales, worth some 10 million euros a year in the town, are made to foreigners in its 14 coffee shops, according to court evidence.

The owner of 'Easy Going' had argued the ban violated the principles of the EU's single market – which gives EU citizens equal rights to goods and services.

Europe's highest court admitted tourists were being deprived of certain EU rights, but nonetheless rejected the argument.

"That restriction [on freedom to make use of lawful catering] is, however, justified by the objective of combating drug tourism and the accompanying public nuisance," it ruled.

"The Court points out that it is not easy to control and monitor with accuracy that [cannabis] is not served to or consumed by non-residents."

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

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