Marijuana Is In, Tobacco Is Out Under Netherlands' Smoking Ban Print
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Friday, 05 September 2008 14:35
Marijuana Is In, Tobacco Is Out Under Netherlands' Smoking Ban

By Martijn van der Starre

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- Starting July 1, marijuana will be the only leaf that
can be smoked in public places in the Netherlands. Cannabis devotees
aren't celebrating.

Local pot smokers, who usually cut joints with tobacco, and owners of the
``coffee shops'' where they are allowed to light up will have to change their
habits when the nation implements the indoor tobacco ban. Puffing a pure
marijuana cigarette in public will still be permitted; smoking one with
tobacco will merit coffee shop owners a 300-euro ($466) fine for the first
offense and 2,400 euros for a fourth.

``Every customer will have to learn how to smoke pure,'' said Robert
Kempen, co-owner of The NooN and Mellow Yellow in Amsterdam, which
sell marijuana and hashish. The rule makes him ``sick to death,'' he said,
rolling himself a joint.

Coffee-shop proprietors say the ban will put some of them out of business
as smokers stay away. The nation's 720 outlets that serve marijuana
smokers generate a large portion of their revenue from selling drinks, food
and rolling papers to their patrons. Dutch sales of cannabis alone totaled
1.2 billion euros ($1.86 billion) in 2001, according to the most recent figures
available from the nation's statistics bureau.

To permit tobacco smoking, shops will have to build separate, unstaffed
rooms, and many say they don't have the space or money to do so. Others
are investing in water pipes and $400 vaporizers, initially intended to aid
people with lung problems inhale medicine, to help smokers light up
without tobacco.

`Times Have Changed'

``It's a bad year for marijuana smokers,'' said Gwydion Hydref while
smoking in Coffee Shop Johnny. The Welshman works for Wickedtrips, a
company that offers vacation packages, including a ```no holds barred'
weekender'' to Amsterdam ahead of the smoking ban. ``Times have
changed.''

The Netherlands follows other European countries in banning tobacco.
Ireland was the first country in the region to forbid smoking in public places
in 2004. Sweden, Italy, Malta, France, Belgium, Finland, Lithuania, Portugal
and England and others have followed, with full or partial restrictions.

The Dutch ban, which prohibits tobacco smoking in all public places of
employment to protect workers' health, is only for tobacco and makes no
change to marijuana policy, said Saskia Hommes, a spokeswoman for Dutch
Health MinisterAb Klink. The government will have to see if the law is
enforceable, she said.

The Netherlands decriminalized the use of marijuana in 1976, though it
stopped short of fully legalizing the drug because international treaties
prohibited it from doing so. The country's first coffee shop, named after
Donovan's song ``Mellow Yellow,'' had opened its doors four years earlier.

`Bloody Awful'

Government policy toward the shops has become less lenient in recent
years, with the number dropping by 39 percent in a decade as authorities
cracked down on sale to young people and revoked the licenses of owners
who commit crimes.

Still, the shops have devoted patrons who are upset about the latest
development.

The ban is ``bloody awful,'' said Nima Gani, a musician smoking at The
NooN. Gani plans to stop visiting The NooN and smoke his ``Blueberry''
marijuana and tobacco joints on the street.``I feel like my freedom is
getting smaller and smaller,'' he said.

To enforce the new policy, the government has more than doubled its
number of food and consumer product inspectors to 200, said Bob Kiel, a
spokesman for the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. The
agents will make unannounced visits to bars, restaurants and cafes, as well
as coffee shops. There are no guidelines to help inspectors distinguish
between a mixed joint and a pure one, he said.

Hashish and Joints

Coffee shops sell everything from pre-rolled joints for 3.50 euros each to
hashish for as much as 18 euros a gram, said Mark Jacobsen, chairman of
the Amsterdam Association of Cannabis Retailers. The ban will make it even
harder for the shops to stay in business as visitors and revenue will drop,
said Jacobsen, who is building a wall to divide The Rookies, a shop he co-
owns.

``Sales will definitely fall,'' said Rida Oulad, who works behind the counter
at Ibiza in Amsterdam. ``Why would you go to a coffee shop where you
can't smoke and the only remaining activities are sitting and watching
television?''

Gani, for one, isn't happy about the changes. He says he can't smoke at his
real home because his mother would hit him ``over the head with a pan.''

Still, he has no plans to stop rolling joints mixed with tobacco: ``Smoking
pure grates my throat.''

Paul Craig Roberts
 

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