Cannabis lovers dodge Dutch smoking ban
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands introduced a tobacco smoking ban in bars and restaurants on Tuesday but weed lovers carried on lighting up pure cannabis joints, pipes and vaporizers in the country's coffee shops.
"No smoking" signs were clearly visible in traditional Dutch brown cafes and trendy bars, while coffee shop owners handed out leaflets outlining the new rules of consumption and suggesting tobacco substitutes like a mix of herbs.
"Many cultures don't smoke cannabis with tobacco. Americans often smoke with bongs (hookahs). But the Dutch are used to smoking it with cigarettes, so it will be more of a hassle for them," said Barbara Bovenkerk, floor manager at the Green House coffee shop.
"The first few days will be a bit strange, but eventually people will accept it. A while ago they banned alcohol in the coffee shops and everyone complained but went along with it."
Soft drugs are officially banned in the Netherlands but under a policy of tolerance, buyers are allowed to have less than 5 grams of cannabis in their possession.
Small quantities are sold in coffee shops, making the usually small and cozy venues big attractions for tourists.
Under the new law, cutting cannabis with tobacco could land coffee shop owners with a fine of up to 2,400 euros ($3,787).
Some coffee shop owners were concerned that the tobacco ban would lead more people to smoke stronger joints and encourage smokers to move out on to the streets.
"Smoking it pure can knock you out, and maybe make it more addictive. Smoking culture is also likely to move outside in the streets and parks," said Pieter van Wallen, manager of the Rokerij coffee shop.
DEATH OF THE COFFEE SHOP?
The tobacco ban was also seen as one step closer to the death of traditional coffee shops selling cannabis.
"Coffee shops will be finished in 10 years, there is so much pressure from societal control," said Bovenkerk.
Cafe and restaurants have also expressed concern about the ban, and a group of Dutch bar owners have taken the matter to court, asking for an exemption for smaller bar owners. But other bar managers felt that people would quickly adapt to the rules.
"It won't affect us as much as we are all afraid of. The time is also very convenient: the weather is nice so people will just go outside for a smoke," said Dennis Bosma, manager of Cafe de Gaeper, a traditional Dutch cafe.
Smokers also saw the positive sides to the ban.
"It's not healthy so it's better for everyone to stop," said 23-year old waitress and former smoker Liane Mosselaar, who said she had given up to time with the ban.
"I think the ban will work well here. It will be a bit of a surprise at first but we'll get used to it."
(Reporting by Catherine Hornby)
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