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(CN) - The mayor of one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands should not have shut down a marijuana café for serving non-Dutch patrons, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled. Maastricht, just across the border from Belgium and Germany, has a number of cannabis bars or "coffee shops" that serve marijuana and hashish.
Although cannabis is technically not legal in the Netherlands, the country tolerates small-scale consumption. Around 70 percent of customers at Maastricht coffee shops are not Dutch, however, so the city adopted a "residency criterion" bylaw to prevent drug tourists from patronizing such establishments. After hearing two reports that the Easy Going coffee shop had admitted nonresidents, the mayor of Maastricht shut it down for three months in 2006. Owner Marc Josemans challenged the closure, bringing the case before the EU's high court. Last December, that court said the local law may be justified to combat drug crimes, even though it contravenes a principle guaranteeing the freedom of services.
But Wednesday, the Dutch court - based in The Hague - ruled that the local bylaw is preempted by the national Opium Act. The Dutch high court agreed that it does not violate EU law or the Dutch Constitution. Preventing non-Dutch from patronizing coffee shops is compatible with its Constitution's ban on discrimination, since such discrimination is apparently reasonable, according to the ruling. But under the Opium Act, local authorities may order coffee shops to stop selling narcotic drugs altogether, according to the decision. Passed in 1919, the Opium Act made highly addictive opiates such as heroin illegal. The law was amended in 1976 to regulate "soft drugs" such as cannabis, which the Dutch government tolerates, so long as it is offered in relatively small amounts to persons age 18 and older.
The lower house of the Dutch Parliament has approved measures to set a membership system in place for the consumption of cannabis, which would be restricted to Dutch nationals. Some local Dutch authorities reportedly fear that this may push the cannabis trade onto the black market.
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