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Holland Election Leaves Up in the Air the Question of "Weed Pass" and the Future of Dutch Coffee Shops for Tourists

The next Dutch prime minister is a strong proponent of the restrictive "weed pass," but implementing it will be an uphill battle.

If the center-left Labor Party PvdA had won, or the Socialists, who made pot legalization a centerpiece of their campaign, there would be no question about the future of the world-famous Dutch coffeeshops, at least in the short term, and their ability to serve pot to visitors to Holland. 

But alas, the conservative leader Mark Rutte will be the next Dutch prime minister. Rutte's free-market VVD party won 41 seats in Parliament, versus 38 for the Labor Party, which came in second. The VVD is a strong proponent of what's known as the "weed pass," a bit of Dutch legislation that would restrict the sale of marijuana to registered Dutch citizens.  

The trial run of the weed pass, beginning last spring in the south of the country, near the borders of Belgium and Germany, was aimed at tourists who travel into Holland and make a mess of things, as a result of their pot-smoking. The rest of the plan, which would affect Amsterdam and create private clubs for pot-smokers --with tourists excluded -- is due to be implemented at the end of the year. 

But even though the center-right VVD, the party that introduced the weed pass system, won the election this past Wednesday, the pass still might not be implemented on January 1, when it’s set to go into effect across the Netherlands. Rutte will have to put together a coalition to govern, and since the election margins are so slim, it's unclear who will be part of it. 

The 150 seats of Parliament have been split up based on the vote, and now, as dictated by the Dutch system, the VVD must form a coalition with other parties. Generally, the more parties in a ruling coalition, the more voices need to be heard, the more compromises need to be made, and the harder it becomes to govern effectively. Therefore many are expecting that the VVD will choose the PvdA as their allies in order to control 79 seats without having too many opinions—parties in the coalition—to contend with. Though VVD also won the last elections in 2010, the coalition it formed was with the CDA, a Christian Democratic party, which tends to go right on social issues, and the PVV, an anti-Muslim, far-right group headed by the infamous Geert Wilders. Both groups supported the weed pass, and both lost significant seats in this election. If either end up in the ruling coalition, they will not have the same power as they did in the previous, more right-wing government. Overall, of the 150 members elected to Parliament, 77 are for the weed pass, while 73 are against.

Still, there was a festive effort to build support against the weed pass in Holland, including the Cannabus’ national tour of Holland, with its cartoon mascot “Uncle Dam." The campaign against the weed pass got strong support by the more than 200 coffeeshops in Amsterdam  in a city of less than a million, which sell marijuana—for consumption on premises—in shops blasting early-'90s Snoop Doggy Dogg and the best of Sublime. The coffeeshops, which have been around since the 1970s. are prime destinations for college backpackers,  European tours and British stag parties.

But even though the weed pass may still get the boot, this isn’t exactly the outcome marijuana advocates were looking for. In Amsterdam, before the election, coalitions of coffeeshops had papered the city with everything from signs urging, “Don’t let your vote go up in smoke” to lighters and packets of joint filters emblazoned with “Ga Kiezen” (roughly, “Go Choose”). But the Socialist Party (SP), which was supported by many of these advocates, won only 15 seats. More than to simply get rid of the pass, they wanted full legalization, not just toleration, the government’s current position on soft drugs. But with full legalization off the table for now, Dutch marijuana supporters are focused on showing just how ineffective, and potentially dangerous, the weed-pass system could be.           

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