“Stoner vote” dictates trade business of the Netherlands
Alex Lindberg, Staff Writer
September 21, 2012
Filed under World & Nation
Imagine you’re sitting in a hazy coffee shop, hearing faint Jimi Hendrix songs as you puff on your pipe. Your eyes settle on canals and rows of buildings opposite the shop. A glance at the wall behind the counter reveals a poster with marijuana leaves and the word “Vote” in large print. This is a common scene for Amsterdam residents as shop owners persuade costumers to vote in the September general election.
As of Jan. 1, 2013, no non-Netherlands resident or anyone without an issued identification card, will be permitted to buy marijuana in the Netherlands. This ban on trade could push the Dutch economy into a sharp decline, given fewer tourists may visit and the main product they sell will remain on the shelves.
The last hope for the coffee shop business falls on the Sept. 12 Dutch elections where repeal of the new law will be on the ballot. This chance may go to waste, however, should their native clientele neglect to get out and vote.
As referred to in popular media, the “stoner vote” is critical to repealing this legislation. Should Dutch “stoners” struggle to muster up the energy to reach the polls that day or merely forget the election is happening altogether, the marijuana ban may become permanent.
“We are trying to make clear to cannabis consumers all over Holland … that this year is your last chance to save your cannabis policy and your coffee shop,” Marc Josemans, head of Maastricht’s coffee shop association told The Huffington Post. “And therefore, it’s about time you get out of your lazy chairs on Sept. 12 and vote for a cannabis-friendly party.”
The distribution and usage of cannabis has never been legal in the Netherlands, rather it has been tolerated by the government and police force. Due to recent pressure from the rest of the EU, leniency may shift with the passing of the ban.
“The rationale behind it (the ban) was to prevent injury to tourists who come over, eat or smoke too much and freak out or jump in a canal — which actually happens far more than you’d think — but there also seems to be some political pressure from the EU behind it,” said Patrick Mitchell ’11, a resident of the Netherlands, in an email interview. “Belgium was complaining that many people from France were coming up and buying it (marijuana) at the border then driving back through Belgium, trafficking it along the way.”
Because of this illicit trafficking, the south Netherlands was the first to implement the ban, causing several coffee shops’ profit to delcine, closing their doors for good.
“It is extremely doubtful the coffee shops (can) survive if the policy continues,” said Josemans.
The other problem is the rise in the black market trade of marijuana around the country. It is suspected that coffee shops shutting down, combined with increased restrictions on the purchase of cannabis, will lead to citizens selling the drug to tourists privately. With this potential rise in the black market trade, some expect violence as a result.
“There are already a lot of blank storefronts, and I can see a lot more of (the shops) closing because of this law,” said recent Amsterdam visitor Tim Lindberg ’10 in an email interview. “Along with this increase in illegal trade, we are bound to see more violence.”
The country has already seen a 60 percent profit loss from restricting the trade in the southern provinces and protesters have been calling for a repeal of the ban, claiming discrimination.
Those elected to serve as the new administration have the decision of either upholding or removing the ban. Should the ban come into full effect in Amsterdam, the level of harm that could follow remains unknown, but dreaded nonetheless.
“I’m not sure what effect it will have on Amsterdam,” said Mitchell. “The (tobacco)smoking ban enacted in July 2008 is pretty much ignored and, as far as I can tell, not enforced. If the new ‘resident only law’ is enforced, it will probably just move the activity into the streets, with the locals buying and taking their cut selling it on the black market.”
In North Carolina, a state where marijuana is decriminalized, the question of its legality remains an issue. House Bill 577, which would legalize cannabis for medical use, has been held under consideration for the past two years.
“When it comes to legalizing (marijuana), I’m all for it,” said Assistant Professor of Political Science Robert Duncan. “It isn’t a gateway drug; it helps people with depression and other serious medical issues.”
Duncan continued, “Last I heard, a survey found about 70–80 percent of people in favor of it, so the real question is: why isn’t the government legalizing cannabis?”