Dutch Border Town Plans Drug Drive-Throughs

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jun 7, 2001.

  1. By Carl Honoré, National Post
    Source: National Post

    In a bid to keep German "drug tourists" and the street dealers who serve them out of its downtown area, Venlo is considering opening two drive-throughs where adults can buy cannabis, hashish and marijuana from their cars before heading back across the border.
    Soft drugs are already available at 1,500 licensed coffee shops across the Netherlands, but the drive-through scheme takes customer convenience to a new level.

    In Venlo, a town of 65,000 near the border with Germany, some coffee shop patrons can hardly wait for what locals call McDope.

    "It's a cool idea," says Michael, a young German visitor, puffing on a joint by the Maas river. "We live in a fast-food world so why not sell drugs like McDonald's sells hamburgers?"

    But Venlo is trying to curb, not expand, its drugs trade.

    Encouraged by the open borders of the European Union, thousands of Germans flock here each week to take advantage of Dutch laws allowing adults to buy up to five grams of soft drugs.

    Most of the day trippers are mellow and discreet, often buying their pot from the town's five licensed coffee shops and heading straight home. But others wander around town in a stoned haze, humming Pink Floyd songs or staring obsessively at traffic signs.

    Worse, brisk demand for more and harder drugs has filled the streets with unlicensed dealers.

    "It's not so much the drug tourists themselves causing problems, it's the drugs scene that has grown up around them," says Elke Haanraadts, who oversees Venlo's anti-drugs project. "People don't feel safe in the town centre any more."

    Despite its handsome brick buildings, the riverfront is a no-go zone for many locals. More than 60 illegal drug dens peddle everything from hash to heroin. Dealers roar through the streets at all hours in their trademark Volkswagen Golfs, or loiter on the sidewalks pestering passersby with offers of drugs. In the evenings, junkies shoot up in the bushes along the river.

    Ine, an interior decorator, avoids the area. "I never walk there," she says. "It is a horrible atmosphere, very aggressive and seedy."

    By putting the drive-throughs on the edge of town, nearer the border, Venlo's officials hope to persuade drug tourists to "shop 'n' go," undermining the downtown drug market. Unlicensed dealers are also facing firmer policing and eviction from their homes.

    Even so, locals still despair over the state of their town.

    Along the riverside, property prices have fallen and several businesses have closed. Nearby streets are lined with stores selling drug paraphernalia, from glass water pipes to psychedelic lighters to Bob Marley posters. Signs in windows offer magic mushrooms at bargain prices

    Though violent crime is rare -- dealers "protect" their streets and are friendly to storekeepers -- the gangland atmosphere scares ordinary shoppers away.

    "I'm losing a lot of business because people are too afraid to walk around here," says Diana Hulle, who runs a baby clothing store in the drug zone.

    Like other locals though, she wonders if drive-throughs are the answer.

    "If you make buying drugs easier, then maybe more people will come and we will have an even bigger problem," she says.

    There is also plenty of skepticism in Venlo's smoke-filled coffee shops.

    At Oasis, where the bartender sells marijuana from plastic containers, customers lounge on sofas, smoking and listening to reggae music.

    In between puffs, Frank, a middle-aged German with a pony-tail, denounces drive-throughs as a sell-out to mainstream culture.

    "Hashish is not the same as a hamburger," he says. "I don't want to buy my stuff from someone in a pretty uniform saying, 'Have a nice day!'

    "A lot of people like the social aspect of the traditional coffee shop -- you chat to the owner, you smoke a little, hang out, listen to music. And then maybe you go for a walk in town."

    Anna, another German customer, suspects authorities would secretly film cars at the drive-throughs. "You have to watch out for Big Brother," she says. "Soft drugs are illegal in Germany so the legal situation for us is very unclear."

    Much of the Dutch drug world operates in a grey zone. Though technically illegal, selling small amounts of soft drugs is tolerated.

    The lack of legal clarity makes it harder for cities to control the drug trade, but that won't stop Venlo from trying. The McDope drive-throughs could open by the end of the year.

    Like many locals, Karel, a father of three, is counting the days.

    "I don't care what it takes," he said. "I just want to get these German stoners and their dealers out of our town."

    Note: Move to keep buyers out of town labelled 'McDope' by locals.

    Venlo, The Netherlands

    Source: National Post (Canada)
    Author: Carl Honoré, National Post
    Published: June 7, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Southam Inc.
    Contact: letters@nationalpost.com
    Website: http://www.nationalpost.com/

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