INTRAVAL. Bureau voor sociaal-wetenschappelijk onderzoek en advies
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In order to gain insight into the effects and possible side effects of the coffeeshop policy in Amsterdam, the local authority of Amsterdam commissioned a policy evaluation by the research bureau INTRAVAL. The most important research questions were whether the coffeeshop policy fulfilled the expectations, and to what extent are adjustments to the policy necessary. The evaluation took place on the basis of three main themes: the adherence to the coffeeshop policy, the effects of the coffeeshop policy, and the clearness of the coffeeshop policy.
The main points of the coffeeshop policy in Amsterdam are as follows: a careful maintenance of the directives provided by the attorney-general, including administrative maintenance; the introduction of a system of exploitation permits; a careful selection of which coffeeshops should be tolerated; the provision of a clear system of stipulations for coffeeshops in full accordance with the established rules, so that they can function as other licensed bars and cafes; and the establishment of a system of maintenance which is useful for the police, justice services and local authority services. On the basis of these main points, the Amsterdam local authority council decided to place coffeeshops in a separate category of licensed bars and cafes, and to issue permits for the sale of soft drugs exclusively to the establishments admitted to this category. In areas where there is too high a concentration of coffeeshops, permits are not issued to new owners. In addition, no permits are issued to establishments where alcohol is also sold; only those establishments which were on the list of coffeeshops prior to April 1st, 1995, and sell alcohol receive a toleration declaration whereby the sale of alcohol is permitted. The permit is withdrawn immediately if hard drugs are found. If other infringements of the toleration directives are detected, for example the possession of too large a stock of soft drugs or the presence of minors, a plan of steps is initiated. This plan of steps consists of the following directives:
a. with regard to coffeeshops, after three transgressions, the establishment is taken off the list and the exploitation permit is withdrawn;
b. with regard to hash cafes, the toleration permit is withdrawn after two transgressions.
1.    Research design
The research took place in the fall of 1998. For reasons of efficiency, the research was concentrated in the city centre, and in four other parts of the city (Slotervaart/Overtoomse Veld, Oost/Watergraafsmeer, Amsterdam-Noord and Zuidoost). These areas provide a good cross section of the whole city. The following factors were taken into consideration: the (over-)concentration of coffeeshops, the presence of hash cafes, the proximity of schools, and specific problems associated with the present coffeeshop policy.
For the data collection, the following sources were used: interviews with staff members of the police, justice, city area authorities, the management service and the city centre service of Amsterdam local authority, and with the owners of coffeeshops; figures were obtained from the police, city area authorities, and the city centre service; and a survey was also conducted among 1,000 residents in the four city areas and in the city centre.
2.    Adherence and Maintenance
The following directives are generally adhered to reasonably well in the coffeeshops: no advertising; no sale of hard drugs; no nuisance; no sale of drugs to youths under 18 years of age, and no entry to youths in the coffeeshop; no sale of large quantities, meaning a maximum transaction quantity of five grams; and a maximum stock of 500 grams in the coffeeshop (the so-called AHOJ-G directives). Coffeeshop managers have most difficulty observing the maximum of 500 grams of stock. In particular, owners or managers of busy coffeeshops that offer a broad assortment believe that a stock of 500 grams is too small. Some coffeeshop managers store part of their stock in other places. The directives concerning the maximum of five grams of soft drugs for each transaction, and the presence of minors in the coffeeshop are not always observed well. A problem associated with the age directive is the difficulty of estimating the age of clients, and the absence of a general identification obligation. An intervention team has been set up which has carried out more than 200 checks of coffeeshops in the past year (HIT: Horeca Interventie Team). In eight of these checks, youths were found to be present. In addition, half of the residents in the areas of the coffeeshops believe that minors are admitted to coffeeshops. The directive forbidding advertising is observed well in practice.
For extensive checks, the neighbourhood teams call regularly on the intervention team. The intervention team searches the entire premises, and under certain circumstances also the car and house of the coffeeshop manager, looking for a stock which is too large or the presence of hard drugs. They also investigate whether or not the other directives, on advertising and the presence of minors, are observed. Until now, coffeeshops have only been closed on the basis of article 2.7 of the General Local Regulation (Algemeen Plaatselijke Verordening) due to the presence of hard drugs. The possession of too large a stock, the presence of minors, and the causing of nuisance have not (yet) been reason to close a coffeeshop definitively. Infringements of these directives have led to the initiation of the plan of steps. The first step is, however, taken considerably more frequently than the second. A definitive closure after following the plan of steps has not yet occurred.
On the basis of the overviews of administrative measures provided by the city areas services and the city centre service, it appears that a total of 15 hash cafes and 35 coffeeshops were closed for one week during the 1997-1998 period. Regarding these hash cafes, a following transgression will lead to the definitive removal of the toleration declaration. For coffeeshops, a second step would have to occur before the withdrawal of the permit. Four coffeeshops have already been closed for a second time. A following transgression will result in definitive closure. In addition, measures are taken against establishments without toleration declarations in which soft drugs are sold. The measures taken against such establishments conform to the plan of steps applying to hash cafes.
Definitive Closures
In the period between January 1st, 1996, and November 20th, 1998, a total of 19 coffeeshops or hash cafes were closed definitively on the basis of article 2.7 of the General Local Regulation. Most of these (eleven) were closed in 1996, while in 1997 and 1998 four coffeeshops were closed. This reduction in the annual numbers of closures did not occur in relation to other establishments, such as regular cafes, bars, night clubs, and coffee houses. The coffeeshop managers started to observe the directives more strictly, partly due to the more intensive monitoring.
Number of coffeeshops
A total of 56 coffeeshops have been closed definitively since 1996. In addition to nineteen closures on the basis of article 2.7 of the General Local Regulation, 31 coffeeshops or hash cafes closed their business voluntarily; another six closed for other reasons. In 1996 there were 109 hash cafes. Since then, 23 (21 per cent) have closed definitively, or have stopped selling soft drugs. There were 244 coffeeshops in 1996. Of these 244, 33 (13 per cent) have either closed or stopped selling soft drugs.
A total of 302 coffeeshops or hash cafes were contained in the list of coffeeshops of September 18th, 1998. It is known that a total of five of the coffeeshops on that list have closed since then. In the city area De Pijp, two coffeeshops have stopped conducting business recently, and three coffeeshop closures in the city area Zuidoost have not yet been registered with the manager of the coffeeshop list. Therefore, there are 297 coffeeshops or hash cafes established in Amsterdam presently. This number is perhaps higher than would be expected on the basis of the more stringent policy. Tighter policy probably does not lead to a sharp reduction of the number of coffeeshops in the short term: the reduction will be much more gradual and will take place over a number of years.
In the city areas of Noord and Zuidoost, where there are three and zero coffeeshops respectively, there is a need for an expansion of the number of coffeeshops in connection with the demand for soft drugs. According to the present policy, an expansion of the number of coffeeshops is not possible. Both city areas view this as an important point of tension in the current coffeeshop policy.
3.    Nuisance
The most recent list of coffeeshops from the local authority was compared with the incidents registered in the flexible registration system (flexibele meldkamersysteem: FMS) of the police. The police register the location where each reported incident took place. The street names and numbers of the premises where incidents were reported are registered. If an incident took place on the street, the street name and number of the closest premises is registered. A selection was made of all the incidents contained in the flexible registration system. Only the incident codes concerning noise pollution, traffic nuisance, criminality or drugs were selected.
The information reveals that the range of reports of nuisance registered by the police in the vicinity of coffeeshops is small. Reports of the incorrect parking of cars are particularly scarce. Most reports in relation to coffeeshops are concerned with noise pollution or fights. Reports of noise pollution scored particularly highly. Reports of fights in or in the vicinity of coffeeshops are made as frequently as at other locations in the city. The locations with relatively many reports are often situated in the city centre, where the largest proportion of coffeeshops in Amsterdam are also situated. Many of these coffeeshops are in the busy night club areas, where relatively many incidents occur. Therefore, the reports are not necessarily related directly to the coffeeshops. It is however striking that some coffeeshops are featured in the reports year after year.
On the basis of the survey of residents, it appears that residents experience relatively little nuisance from the coffeeshops. The hindrance experienced by residents from groups of youths, drug addicts, noise pollution, neighbourhood gossip and traffic pollution is (considerably) greater. The residents who do experience nuisance from coffeeshops complain mainly about groups of youths and noise pollution from coffeeshops. The residents experience the same amount of nuisance from cafes; in the city centre the nuisance caused by cafes is somewhat greater.
The relocation of a coffeeshop from an area sensitive to nuisance to a location where the nuisance is more controllable is not possible within the framework of the present policy. In the city area Amsterdam-Noord, where a shopping mall is being renovated, this is perceived to be a weakness in the current policy.
The police and justice services know little regarding the influence of drugs related tourism and criminal organisations on the coffeeshops. However, the delivery of soft drugs, in which criminal organisations are involved, is seen by the police in particular as a perpetual point of weakness in the current coffeeshop policy.
Other Points of Sale
There are, according to several respondents, several places where soft drugs are sold illegally. Illegal trade in soft drugs takes place particularly in the city area Zuidoost, where there are no tolerated coffeeshops. In addition to two generally known points of sale, according to the police, the sale takes place in residences that have been turned into meeting places. In addition, in the survey the residents of the city area Zuidoost say they have the impression that street trade also occurs. In this city area, where there is a substantial hard drugs problem, the separation of the hard and soft drugs markets no longer appears to be guaranteed.
In the city area Amsterdam-Noord, there are two tolerated points of sale that are not on the list. One of these points of sale has received a provisional exploitation permit from the city area authority for a building in which there was a coffeeshop in the past. This coffeeshop was closed by the city mayor. The reason that the city area authority issued a permit is the observed increase in street trade. The second point of sale is a coffeeshop situated above a cafe, where soft drugs have been sold for some years without a toleration declaration. The request for a toleration declaration is still being processed by the city area authority.
4.    The Clearness of the Policy
The current policy, in particular the integral judicial-administrative maintenance, has led to a better control of the soft drugs problem. The coffeeshop policy is generally described as clear by all those concerned. There is, however, some lack of clarity regarding the presence of minors in coffeeshops, and the way in which this should be dealt with. Some members of the neighbourhood teams of the police and staff members of the city area authorities think that transgression of this directive should lead to policy measures. The judicial authorities also subscribe to this view, but state that they have not yet received an official report from the police regarding the presence of a minor in a coffeeshop. If the police were to file such an official report, the judicial authorities would take actions in accordance with their responsibilities. More clarity on this point between the parties concerned is advisable.
Not all the police personnel involved in maintaining the coffeeshop policy are informed personally of the measures taken in the context of the plan of steps. Information regarding the steps is sent from the local authority to the neighbourhood team, and is subsequently passed on to those concerned during the daily meetings. In addition, a central local authority information system on bars and cafes will come into effect in 1999 (horeca informatiesysteem: HIS). The police will have access to this system. This system will contain all information on closures, warnings, and such like. Police agents who are members of the neighbourhood teams will be able to request information from this system themselves.
The plan of steps is clearly formulated, but there are differences in interpretation. For example, it is unclear why a coffeeshop in the city area Westerpark was not closed after quantities of stock were found repeatedly that exceeded the maximum specified in the directive. In the city centre, infringements of the policy directives applying to bars and cafes generally are registered for a period of one year only, after which the slate is wiped clean. The fact that coffeeshop policy consists of a policy of toleration raises the question of whether this rule should also be applied to coffeeshops.
The coffeeshop managers in particular have had to adjust to the more stringent policy in the initial period. Not all infringements have led to sanctions during this period of adjustment. Coffeeshop managers have, however, often received an official warning, without this leading to a week long closure. In particular regarding minor infringements of the directives, for example advertising, warnings are given without these leading to sanctions. A week long closure is viewed as a severe sanction.
In addition, there is some ambiguity regarding the consequences of transgressions of directives for coffeeshop managers who own several coffeeshops. When hard drugs or large stocks of soft drugs are found in the car or residence of the coffeeshop manager, it is unclear whether this should have consequences for all coffeeshops concerned.
Finally, it can be noted that the current rules do not make it possible for the exploitation permit to be confiscated if the coffeeshop owner commits serious crimes that are not related directly to the business. If hard drugs are involved in such incidents, the possibility of intervention is certainly desirable, considering the policy principle of maintaining a clear separation of the markets for soft and hard drugs. It is perhaps possible to amend the General Local Regulation (APV) in this respect.
5.    Concluding Remarks
The main aim of the coffeeshop policy in Amsterdam is to reduce the associated nuisance by separating the goats from the sheep. This policy implies reducing the numbers of coffeeshops and hash cafes and encouraging the separation of the markets for hard and soft drugs. Most coffeeshops/hash cafes in Amsterdam are concentrated in city centre areas. The policy has been made more stringent in relation to these coffeeshops, and hash cafes in particular. This has not, however, led to a considerable reduction in the number of places where soft drugs are sold. Until now, coffeeshops and hash cafes appear to have been closed for trade in hard drugs and for causing nuisance only. On the basis of the survey of residents and figures from the police, it appears that residents experience relatively little nuisance from coffeeshops/hash cafes. This is also the case for residents in areas where there is a concentration of coffeeshops and hash cafes. Other causes of nuisance, such as groups of youths, drug addicts, neighbours, or traffic, are mentioned considerably more frequently.
The most important problems that present themselves in relation to coffeeshops and hash cafes in Amsterdam are the following: the distribution of coffeeshops /hash cafes in the city; the implementation of the maximum transaction quantity of five grams and the minimum age rule of 18 years; and the hash cafes. The consequence of the uneven distribution of coffeeshops and hash cafes in Amsterdam is that there is an over supply in the city centre and a limited supply in the city areas of Noord and Zuid in particular. This is particularly acute in the city area Zuidoost. For diverse reasons, all the tolerated coffeeshops in that area were closed in a short period of time, as a result of which the supply of soft drugs cannot be monitored. A mixing with the hard drugs market may well have occurred already. In order to encourage the separation of the soft and hard drugs markets, it is advisable to issue toleration declarations in the near future to establishments that wish to sell soft drugs. One possibility is to stimulate interest for this idea among the coffeeshop owners in the concentration areas in the city centre.
On the basis of the evaluation, it appears that the (AHOJ-G) directives are generally adhered to well. The problems arise particularly regarding the adherence to the maximum transaction quantity of five grams, and the minimum age of 18 years for entry to coffeeshops and hash cafes. Both these directives are difficult to monitor. In the unannounced and thorough checks of coffeeshops/hash cafes conducted by the intervention team (HIT), minors are occasionally found, but hardly ever transgressions of the five gram directive.
At present, there are 211 coffeeshops and 86 hash cafes in Amsterdam, most of which are situated in the city centre. Nationally, it has been decided to separate the sale of soft drugs and alcohol. The use of both these intoxicating substances at the same time is viewed as undesirable. A policy of eradication has been chosen regarding hash cafes in Amsterdam. If the hash cafes stop the sale of soft drugs spontaneously or close definitively at the current tempo, this will take years. By selling both soft drugs and alcohol, they have an important competitive advantage in relation to coffeeshops. By obliging hash cafes to choose between the sale of soft drugs or alcohol within a reasonable period of adjustment, the number of coffeeshops in Amsterdam, particularly in the city centre, can be reduced substantially. In the city of Rotterdam, the separation of the sale of alcohol and cannabis led to a 50 per cent reduction in the number of coffeeshops. In addition, if this policy was applied, the Amsterdam cannabis policy would then be more in line with the national policy.
© INTRAVAL, Groningen-Rotterdam .
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