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Amsterdam's cannabis-selling coffee shops face crackdown

The drive to shut down many of Amsterdam's cannabis coffee shops coincides with a tightening of regulations on the sex trade. Both industries thrive in the city's red-light district.
The drive to shut down many of Amsterdam's cannabis coffee shops coincides with a tightening of regulations on the sex trade. Both industries thrive in the city's red-light district. (Peter Dejong/associated Press)
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For Paul Schnabel, director of the Social and Cultural Planning Office, a government advisory board, the move reflects a growing view that the tolerance policies have not controlled the ills associated with drugs and prostitution, rather than a recasting of Dutch liberalism.

"There's a strong tendency in Dutch society to control things by allowing them. . . . We look for better alternatives to problems that we know exist anyway," he explained.

But, he added, "Dutch society is less willing to tolerate than before. Perhaps 30 years ago we were a more easy-going society."

The circumstances that led to the tolerance policies have changed in the past decade, as large-scale crime around coffee shops and the legal sex trade became more visible. In particular, the absence of legal means for coffee shops to obtain cannabis has highlighted their association with organized crime.

But the open-minded instincts that helped foster the policies are also being questioned. And it is not just the far-right opposing coffee shops. The traditional parties of power on the center-right, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal VVD, have also moved against the policies they once promoted.

"The liberal consensus that helped create those policies - that's gone now. The pragmatism has been replaced by increasingly moral politics, in a way which is reminiscent of what happened in the United States with the 'moral majority' in the 1980s," said Andre Krouwel, a political scientist at the Free University in Amsterdam.

- Financial Times


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