Court backs Dutch ruling on coffee shops

The European Court of Justice today upheld rules in the Netherlands preventing non-Dutch residents from entering coffee shops that sell soft drugs
European Voice
Thursday, December 16, 2010

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that a municipal regulation imposed by the city of Maastricht prohibiting local coffee-shop owners from admitting non-residents of the Netherlands was justified as it aimed to reduce drug tourism and public nuisance.

“Those objectives constitute a legitimate interest which, in principle, justifies a restriction of the obligations imposed by Community law, even under a fundamental freedom such as the freedom to provide services,” the ECJ said in a statement.

A coffee-shop owner in Maastricht, Marc Michel Josemans, had taken the city and the mayor to the Dutch Raad van State, the country's constitutional court, after the city shut down his shop in 2006 for permitting non-residents to enter and purchase goods. The Dutch court had asked the ECJ to deliver its opinion on the case.

Josemans claims the city violated EU rules on the freedom to provide services to all EU citizens. The owner also claimed the city prevented him from selling non-alcoholic beverages and food in his establishment.

The ECJ, however, sided with arguments put forward by the city and Dutch, Belgian and French governments that the selling of food and beverages was secondary to the sale of cannabis in the coffee shops and customers could go elsewhere for those products.

The Maastricht and Dutch government authorities claim the problems associated with the sale of the soft drugs to non-residents have caused various problems including crime and increased use of hard drugs.

The Dutch government and other local authorities are considering expanding the city by-law to other regions in the Netherlands to deter drug tourism and to introduce a special pass to allow local residents to enter coffee-shops.

The case now returns to the Dutch Raad van State which will deliberate on the ECJ's opinion before making a final decision.