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Dutch report
by Euro Reporter
2014-03-16 12:02:02
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Maastricht locals complain of rise in street dealers following 'pot tourism' crackdown

holand_400The rise of so-called 'pot tourism' in the Netherlands prompted a change in the country's drug laws but residents in Maastricht say the crackdown has led to an increase in the number of street dealers. The Netherlands had hoped to stamp out street peddling in the 1970s by launching a policy of tolerating ‘coffee shops’ where people could buy and smoke marijuana freely.  But it decided to ban anyone who didn’t live in the country from buying the drug because of a rise in ‘pot tourists’ who were visiting simply to smoke marijuana. Maastricht's locals say the dealers have returned following a crackdown, and are creating a 'darker' atmosphere in the border town. The county's central government clampdown banned people who live outside the Netherlands from coffee shops and closed any shops deemed to be too close to schools. There was even a short-lived policy that said smokers had to apply for a 'Weed Pass' to get into a coffee shop. The new rules were rolled out across the country between the middle of 2012 and the beginning of last year. But it is up to local municipalities to enforce them - and most are embracing only part of the policy.

Amsterdam - with some 200 licensed coffee shops, one-third of the nationwide total - still lets foreigners visit them, although it is closing coffee shops that are near schools.  But Maastricht has fully embraced the crackdown. Its mayor, Onno Hoes, said he enforced the legislation to halt a daily influx of thousands of foreigners who crossed the borders to stock up on pot at its 14 coffee shops. The effort to end so-called 'drug tourism' has been successful, local residents say, but the flip side has been a rise in street dealers.  Carol Berghmans lives close to the River Maas and sees dealers each day as he walks his dog. He said that there were problems before the crackdown as cars filled with pot tourists poured into the cobbled streets of central Maastricht - but he described the atmosphere as 'gezellig', a Dutch word that loosely translates as cozy or convivial. But, since coffee shops were banned from selling to non-residents, Mr Berghmans said the numbers of foreigners has dried up and atmosphere in town had turned darker as street dealers aggressively badgered potential clients and fought amongst themselves. ‘Now the drug runners are trying to sell on the street to anyone,’ he told Associated Press. ‘They are bothering everybody.'

Maastricht city spokesman Gertjan Bos said the problem of street dealing is not new, but conceded that it has become more visible since the city’s crackdown reduced the number of drug tourists. 'We have a feeling our approach is working,' Bos said, 'but we do still have to work on the street dealers.' Easy Going coffee shop, in a street linking Maastricht’s historic market square with the Maas, has been shut for months as its owner, Marc Josemans, refuses to adhere to the rule about selling only to Dutch residents. 'I won’t discriminate,' he said.  Mr Josemans is fighting a legal battle against the new rules and expects the Dutch Supreme Court to issue a ruling soon on whether turning away non-Dutch residents is constitutional.  Experts also question the Dutch policy change. August de Loor runs a bureau in Amsterdam that gives drug advice aimed at minimising health risks for users as well as testing party drugs such as ecstasy for purity.  He said coffee shops once played an important role not only in keeping cannabis users away from hard drugs like heroin, but also educating them about safely using pot and providing a meeting place for people who would rather smoke a joint than drink a beer.  'That special element of the Dutch model makes coffee shops unique in the world,' he said, 'and that is gradually fading away.' Jo Smeets, a former coffee shop worker in Maastricht, complained that his neighbourhood had been overrun by dealers since the city’s crackdown. The dealers, he says, sell drugs on the streets to people who previously would have bought in tightly controlled coffee shops: 'Now they can buy more and they can buy hard drugs from the same dealers.'


Netherlands to upgrade flood defences to cope with climate change

A national effort is underway in the Netherlands to upgrade the thousands of miles of dykes and dams responsible for keeping the country dry. As the planet warms, experts say the Netherlands’ network of flood defences will no longer be able to hold up against rising sea levels, and this autumn, the government will explain how it plans to hold the sea back for another century. In 2007, an investigation was launched into whether the famously low-lying country could survive at all should projections of almost a metre of sea level rise by the end of the century come to pass.

A committee concluded that life could go on in the Netherlands, but work must begin immediately to upgrade the country’s 3,700km of dykes, dunes and dams, which hold back the water in the country’s most vulnerable coastal areas. On the committee’s advice, a Delta Programme was set up, which began work on a new policy framework for the country that will be put before Parliament this September, including five “Delta Decisions” that will form the basis of the country’s new water strategy.

These five decisions lay out concrete ideas on how the Netherlands can deal with some of the biggest challenges posed by their troublesome geography. The proposals will renew the government’s strategy on water safety and flood risk management, the future scarcity of freshwater supplies, and spatial planning of new buildings and infrastructure. They also propose specific plans for the most vulnerable regions of the Netherlands, the IJsselmeer region and the Rhine-Meuse Delta.


Anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands spike

Anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands have been on the rise recently, JTA reports. According to a Dutch Jewish watchdog group, there has been a 23 perfect increase in anti-Semitic incidents since 2012. The Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel, known as CIDI, reported an increase of 33 incidents from 2012 to 2013 (with a total of 147 incidents in 2013). These involve both physical violence and threats.

One incident in June 2013 involved an elderly man giving a Nazi salute to a Holocaust survivor. “They forgot to gas you,” he reportedly told the Jewish woman, and proceeded to grab her Star of David necklace and bite her in front of witnesses. The occurrence was reported by police.

Anti-Semitic incidents in schools, including vandalism, have more than doubled. The trend has infiltrated the cyber world as well, with the CIDI reporting 57 explicitly anti-Semitic Twitter messages. The comments are considered hate-speech, and raise legal concerns.


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