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Justice minister abandons 'wietpas' plan to restrict entry to coffeeshops

The Dutch government has formally abandoned plans to turn coffeeshops into members-only clubs – but foreigners will still officially be barred from entering.

Concern: Justice minister Ivo Opstelten acknowledged that street dealing had become a problem.The scrapping of the controversial ‘wietpas’ followed widespread criticism of the measure in the three southern provinces where it has been in force since May 1.

Instead visitors to cannabis cafes will have to show ID and provide evidence that they live in the country, in order to preserve the right-wing Liberal (VVD) Party’s aim of cutting out the cross-border trade.

The enforcement of the rules will be left largely in the hands of town halls, prompting some councils – notably Amsterdam, which is home to one-third of all Dutch coffeeshops – to announce that tourists will continue to be welcomed.

A spokesman for Amsterdam’s council confirmed on Twitter that tourists would continue to be welcome in the city's coffeeshops.

Tourists may find themselves free to visit coffeeshops in Amsterdam but turned away at the door in cities such as Maastricht and Eindhoven.

In a written statement to Parliament, justice minister Ivo Opstelten said the wietpas was no longer necessary because the key goals of reducing drugs tourism and the size of coffeeshops had been achieved.

But he also acknowledged some of the problems that the measure had created in the provinces where it had been trialled: “In the south there was resistance towards membership of coffeeshops.

“Disorder was caused by illegal trade which, in the absence of drugs tourists, turned its attention towards local residents.”

Opstelten confirmed that local councils would be given a free hand to set their own policy on dealing with soft drugs. “People at local level have the best insight into which measures will be most effective,” he said.

The change in policy is a climbdown by Opstelten and under-secretary for justice Fred Teeven, who insisted as recently as September that the wietpas was coming to Amsterdam.

Town halls in the provinces where the wietpas was introduced in May complained that it had stripped them of their ability to regulate the drugs trade and the ensuing social problems were getting out of hand.

In the first three months of the initiative police in Limburg made 386 arrests for illegal street dealing and put an extra 24 officers on the streets to deal with the problem.

Eight local mayors in the province issued a plea for the wietpas not to be extended across the country, warning that street dealing had increased sharply since the measure was introduced.

Opstelten made no concessions on the government’s other major change to drugs policy, which will limit the maximum strength of legally available cannabis.

Under the coalition agreement cannabis with a THC content of more than 15 per cent will be classified as a hard drug, and therefore banned.

Coffeshop owners say the measure is unworkable because the wholesale supply of cannabis is officially illegal, meaning they have no way of controlling the strength of the product that comes in.