Amsterdam closes cannabis shops
ALMERE, Netherlands (Reuters) - Almost a fifth of Amsterdam's popular marijuana-selling coffee shops will be closed down because they are too close to schools, the city council said Friday.
Of the 228 coffee shops in the Dutch capital, 43 must close by the end of 2011 because they are within 250 meters of a school, the council said.
The Dutch coffee shop policy has come under fresh criticism after the Dutch cities of Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal, located near the Belgian border, said they will close all their shops within two years to combat drug tourism and crime.
Amsterdam, home to a quarter of the nation's cannabis coffee shops that are a big draw for tourists, joined with 32 other Dutch mayors or city council representatives Friday to back a continuation of the Dutch "soft drugs" policy of toleration.
But the mayors also called for better rules on the sale and trade of cannabis. They stressed that while a ban on marijuana use was not a solution to the problem, the use of the drug should be discouraged.
The policy on soft drugs in the Netherlands, one of the most liberal in Europe, allows for the sale of marijuana at coffee shops, which the Dutch have allowed to operate for decades, and possession of less than 5 grams (0.18 oz).
But the cultivation or supply of the drug to the coffee shops, the so-called "back door" of the business, is banned.
Annemarie Jorritsma, Almere Mayor, said mayors agreed to push for a system of "heavily regulated toleration."
"Make it transparent who is dealing, who is delivering it to the coffee shops and take care that there are no criminals entering there, which they are at the moment," she said.
Gerd Leers, Mayor of Maastricht which earlier angered Belgian authorities by proposing to move its city center coffee shops to the edge of the city, said 60 percent of the people who visit the city's coffee shops each year are French or Belgian.
He added that the problem is not the fact the Netherlands has coffee shops, the problem is that other countries don't.
Arjam Roskam, a spokesman for the Cannabis Retailers Association which represents 100 members, said the proposals from the mayors were a step in the right direction.
The government will finalize next year an evaluation of its soft and hard drugs policy and a Justice Ministry spokesman said the proposals from the mayors may be taken into consideration.
(Editing by Diana Abdallah)