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Coffeeshop owners warn wietpas is not dead despite Amsterdam's 'open door' policy

The head of Maastricht’s coffeeshop association has said he will continue to fight the Dutch government’s plan to exclude foreigners from the cannabis cafes.

Coffeeshop visitors can still be asked to show proof that they live in the Netherlands.Marc Josemans said that despite Amsterdam’s announcement that tourists would still be welcome, the ‘wietpas’ rules themselves had hardly changed.

Under the new coalition deal agreed by Liberal (VVD) leader Mark Rutte and Labour (PvdA) leader Diederik Samsom, coffeeshops will no longer have to keep registers of members.

Instead patrons will be expected to carry proof that they live in the Netherlands, to preserve the aim of keeping ‘drugs tourists’ out of the country.

However, enforcement has been largely left to town halls, prompting Amsterdam’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan to declare that tourists would not be turned away from coffeeshops in his city.

Other cities, including Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague, have indicated that they could follow suit.

A spokesman for justice minister Ivo Opstelten, one of the main architects of the wietpas, rebuked Van der Laan on Friday, claiming he had jumped the gun and the government still had to discuss the details of the new system with local councils.

But Josemans, who is chairman of the Maastricht Association of Official Coffeshops (VMOC), argued that the changes were largely cosmetic in any case.

The organisation is going to court later this year to challenge the right of local authorities to enforce the rules.

Josemans said they failed to address cannabis smokers’ fears that they could be discriminated against if they need a legal permit to go into a coffeeshop.

“We’ve had all this hoo-ha about the wietpas being scrapped, but almost nothing has changed,” he said.

“The rule about registration has been relaxed, but now instead of having to register once at the coffeeshop you have to carry a GBA [a proof of residence taken from the council register] at all times.

“These documents are only valid for three months. In Maastricht it costs €11.50 every time. And if you turn up at the town hall every three months for a new GBA they’ll soon work out you’re a coffeeshop regular.

“And that brings us back to the question we still don’t have an answer to – what happens with that information? Will people’s insurance costs rise? Will it affect your chances if you apply for a job with the police?”

The wide scope for interpretation could lead to a chaotic situation where foreigners are ‘tolerated’ in some cities but not in others.

Visiting football fans might have unrestricted access to coffeeshops before a European match at Ajax, only to find themselves barred when their team plays PSV Eindhoven or Twente Enschede.

Mr Josemans said that in cities such as Maastricht, whose mayor Onno Hoes is a fervent supporter of the wietpas, foreigners would continue to be shown the door.

“Mayor Van der Laan has shown he has a backbone and said he doesn’t want conditions to get worse in his city, and I’m grateful to him for that,” he said.

“But the mayor of Maastricht is a VVD-er and a coffeshop hater. That's not going to change.

"The core of the problem is that a national law is supposed to cover the whole country.

“If the government wants to make a nationwide policy it needs to decide where to draw the line, not leave it to town halls.”

The relaxation of the rules was widely seen as a concession by the Liberals to their new coalition partners in the Labour Party, but Mr Josemans accused Labour of selling out its voters.

“The worst thing is that the Labour Party has dismissed the 500,000 cannabis smokers in this country.

“Their position before the election was that the wietpas would be totally scrapped and replaced with a new law that created a legal supply chain of consumption and production.

“We voted for them on that basis. It’s a betrayal of the voters.”