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Demo as tourists face marijuana ban

A policy barring foreign tourists from buying marijuana in the Netherlands has come into effect in parts of the country, with attention focused on the southern city of Maastricht, where a cafe was warned over violating the ban and around 200 smokers marched in protest.

Weed is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but it has been sold openly for decades in small amounts in designated cafes known as "coffee shops" under the country's famed tolerance policy.

Under a government policy change, as of May 1, only holders of a "weed pass" are supposed to be allowed to purchase the drug in three southern provinces. Non-residents are not eligible for the pass, which means tourists are effectively banned.

The policy is not supposed to go into effect in Amsterdam, home to around a third of the country's coffee shops, until next year - and it may never be imposed. The city opposes the idea and the conservative national government collapsed last week, raising questions about whether a new Cabinet will persevere with the policy change after elections are held in September.

Most attention was on the city of Maastricht, which borders both Belgium and Germany and which has suffered the effects of a constant flow of traffic from more than a million non-Dutch Europeans driving to the city annually just to purchase as much cannabis as possible and drive back home.

Most shops in Maastricht plan to refuse to use the pass and kept their doors shut.

Around 200 protesters marched though Maastricht protesting the policy. The city's mayor Onno Hoes said at a press conference that the coffee shops closing all at the same time was a "rude" move. He said: "They're disrupting society like this."

Early reports from other affected cities - Tilburg, Roermond and Eindhoven, among others - were that most shops were either remaining closed, or ignoring the pass.

Most Dutch weed smokers are not getting the passes, assuming the law will not be enforced. Some are worried the information that they have obtained a weed pass will somehow leak from a government database and cause them difficulties with healthcare insurance or getting a mortgage.

Ironically, the reason the Dutch tolerance policy got going in the 1970s was not on the theory that marijuana was OK - it has always been viewed as a public health problem - but because containing it in shops seemed like a pragmatic way to deal with the problems caused by street dealing.

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