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Dutch Tobacco Ban

Cannabis smokers on a downer over Dutch tobacco ban

Bloomberg in Amsterdam – Updated on Jun 22, 2008

As of July 1, marijuana will be the only leaf that can be smoked in public places in the Netherlands. Cannabis devotees are not celebrating.

Pot smokers, who usually cut joints with tobacco, and owners of the “coffee shops” where they are allowed to light up will have to change their habits when the nation implements the indoor tobacco ban.

Puffing a pure marijuana cigarette in public will still be permitted; smoking one with tobacco will merit coffee-shop owners a €300 (HK$3,650) fine for the first offence and €2,400 for a fourth.

“Every customer will have to learn how to smoke pure,” said Robert Kempen, co-owner of The NooN and Mellow Yellow in Amsterdam, which sell marijuana and hashish. The rule made him “sick to death”, he said.

Coffee shop owners said the ban would put some of them out of business as smokers stayed away.

The nation’s 720 outlets that serve marijuana smokers generate a large portion of their revenue from selling drinks, food and rolling papers to their patrons. Dutch sales of cannabis alone totalled €1.2 billion in 2001, the most recent official figures show.

To permit tobacco smoking, shops will have to build separate, unstaffed rooms, and many say they do not have the space or money to do so. Others are investing in water pipes and US$400 vaporisers, initially intended to help people with lung problems inhale medicine, to help smokers light up without tobacco.

“It’s a bad year for marijuana smokers,” Gwydion Hydref said, smoking in Coffee Shop Johnny. The Welshman works for Wickedtrips, which offers holiday packages, including a “no-holds-barred weekender” to Amsterdam ahead of the smoking ban. “Times have changed.”

The Netherlands follows other European countries in banning tobacco. Ireland was the first to forbid smoking in public in 2004. Sweden, Italy, Malta, France, Belgium, Finland, Lithuania, Portugal and England have followed, with full or partial restrictions.

The Dutch ban, which prohibits tobacco smoking in all public places of employment to protect workers’ health, is only for tobacco and makes no change to marijuana policy, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Ab Klink said. The government would have to see if the law was enforceable, she said.

The Netherlands decriminalised marijuana in 1976, though it stopped short of fully legalising the drug because international treaties prohibited it from doing so. The country’s first coffee shop, named after Donovan’s song Mellow Yellow, had opened its doors four years earlier.

The number has dropped by 39 per cent over the past decade as authorities cracked down on sales to young people and revoked the licences of owners committing crimes.

To enforce the new policy, the government has more than doubled its number of food and consumer product inspectors to 200.

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