Friday, June 20, 2008

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

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

`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

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

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

``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

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.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Martijn van der Starre in Amsterdam

Last Updated: June 19, 2008 19:01 EDT

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