Holland's Top Court Approves Excluding Foreigners From Cannabis Cafés


Today the Dutch Council of State, the highest court in the Netherlands, ruled that the mayor of Maastricht acted illegally when he shut down a cannabis café in 2006 for violating a local ban on selling marijuana to foreigners. But in a statement (PDF) explaining the decision, the court suggested that the city could have achieved the same result by relying on the country's Opium Act, which bans marijuana despite a longstanding policy of tolerating retail sales:

The municipality may not regulate the sale of soft drugs by means of a municipal byelaw and decisions based on it without reference to the Opium Act…. 

The judgment does not mean the mayor has no further statutory scope for taking measures against coffee shops that he believes cause nuisance problems. Under the Opium Act itself, the mayor may impose an enforcement order against coffee shops selling narcotics.

Citing a December 2010 decision by the European Court of Justice, the Council of State said a policy of restricting "coffee shops" to Dutch residents does "infringe European law on the freedom to provide services" but "is permissible in the interests of combating drug tourism and the nuisance associated with it." The court added that such a rule, favored by the current national government, "is also compatible with the Dutch Constitution's ban on discrimination." Although that policy involves "indirect discrimination based on nationality," the court said, it was justified in this case because "the mayor had demonstrated that public order in the city was being disrupted by the rising influx of drug tourists and that the residence criterion could offer a solution to this problem." The decision seems to remove the last major legal barrier to excluding foreigners from coffee shops, but political barriers remain, since local officials in Amsterdam oppose the proposed policy, apparently viewing "drug tourists" as a boon rather than a menace.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]