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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 May, 2003, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Ban threat to Dutch cannabis cafes
Smoker in an Amsterdam coffee shop
Pot-smokers are dazed by the proposed law
One of the Netherlands' most popular attractions, cannabis-selling cafes, face an uncertain future under a planned new law banning smoking in public places.

The outlets, which draw millions of tourists each year, allow patrons to buy marijuana over the counter and openly smoke joints without fear of arrest.

Under the new regulations, the cafes, known as "coffee shops", will still be able to sell soft drugs but customers may have to indulge elsewhere.

Coffee shop owners say they are aghast at the prospect.

"The whole point of going to a coffee shop is to smoke," said Arjan Roskam, chairman of the Union for Cannabis Retailers.

Neon signs

The new legislation aims to protect employees from passive smoking, and while coffee shops are not the intended target, all companies with staff will be affected.

They've got to be out of their minds
Annemiek van Royan, coffee shop patron

Coffee shops have been operating in the Netherlands since 1972 and there are now more than 800 such establishments.

Easily distinguishable from more regular cafes by their gloomy exteriors and green neon signs, the cannabis cafes provide menus offering a wide variety of hashish and marijuana.

Although cannabis is formally illegal in Holland, authorities turn a blind eye to its sale and use in controlled environments.

Patrons have reacted to the new law with alarm.

"They've got to be out of their minds," said Annemiek van Royan, a regular smoker in the Kashmir Lounge coffee shop.

"I bought a joint for now and a little more for later at home. The best part is coming here to relax. It makes my day!"

The new law, which is due to be approved by the government soon, will come into effect next January.

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