Tightening the Dutch coffee shop policy: Evaluation of the private club and the residence criterion

Marianne M J van Ooyen-Houben, Bert Bieleman, Dirk J Korf
International Journal on Drug Policy 2016, 31: 113-20

BACKGROUND: The Dutch coffee shop policy was tightened in 2012. Two additional criteria that coffee shops must adhere to in order for them to be tolerated came into force: the private club and the residence criterion. Coffee shops were only permitted to give access to members and only residents of the Netherlands were permitted to become a member. This tightened policy sought to make coffee shops smaller and more controllable, to reduce the nuisance associated with coffee shops and to reduce the number of foreign visitors attracted by the coffee shops. Enforcement began in the southern provinces. The private club criterion was abolished at the end of 2012.

METHODS: A sample of fourteen municipalities with coffee shops was drawn. Seven in the south were treated as an 'experimental group' and the others as 'comparison group'. A baseline assessment and follow-ups at six and 18 months were performed. A combination of methods was applied: interviews with local experts, surveys with neighbourhood residents, coffee shop visitors and cannabis users, and ethnographic field work.

RESULTS: Drugs tourism to coffee shops swiftly declined in 2012. The coffee shops also lost a large portion of their local customers, since users did not want to register as a member. The illegal market expanded. Neighbourhood residents experienced a greater amount of nuisance caused by dealer activities. After abolishment of the private club criterion, residents of the Netherlands largely returned to the coffee shops. Drug tourists still remained largely absent. Neighbourhood residents experienced more nuisance from coffee shops again. Illegal cannabis sale was tempered. No effect on cannabis use was found.

CONCLUSION: The quick and robust shifts in the users' market in reaction to the policy changes illustrate the power of policy, but also the limitations caused by the dynamic and resilient nature of the Dutch cannabis supply market.

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