The Netherlands, with its decriminalization of “soft drugs” like marijuana, has long attracted tourists who are interested in sampling illicit substances. Now Maastricht, a Dutch city on the border with Germany and Belgium, is trying to crack down — in part — on “drug tourism,” and the country as a whole is trying to decide how to address the issue.
The Dutch approach to drugs has led to the development of about 700 “coffee shops” nationwide. These establishments sell that sought-after combination of coffee and cannabis and are a typical destination for “drug tourists.” Now Maastricht has decided to ban certain tourists from the “coffee shops.” German and Belgian tourists can go in and partake of the wares; everyone else, not so much. Scanners will check passports and ID cards, police will conduct random checks, and anyone not holding a Dutch, Belgian, or German passport will be required to leave.
Proponents of Maastricht’s law say “drug tourism” is a threat to public order. Opponents of the law say it violates EU policies of equal treatment of citizens of member countries — and also hurts business and the city’s economy. Why turn away those hard-partying Americans, Brits, and Italians, they reason, if you are going to allow Germans and Belgians to come in, chug a cappuccino, and toke up?
The struggle between trying to regulate social conduct, and the prospect of tourist dollars and tax revenue, has caused many American cities and states to revisit their laws about gambling and liquor sales. The debate in the Netherlands about drug laws is the same debate in a different context. In America, the lure of tax revenue and increased tourism usually proves to be irresistible, particularly in bad economic times. How will the Netherlands come out on that debate?