Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner has denied a difference of opinion between himself and Democratic Reform Minister Alexander Pechtold over the coalition government’s soft drugs policy.
The two ministers met on Tuesday morning to discuss the commotion sparked by differing statements over the nation’s cannabis policies on Monday.
Pechtold said he was in favour of legalising cannabis cultivation across Europe and until such time, he said coffeeshops that sell marijuana should be relocated to municipal limits to minimise inner city drug problems.
But Christian Democrat CDA minister Donner is keen to implement a tougher policy against coffeeshops. Legislation is pending to allow swift closures of coffeeshops to eliminate city disturbances.
Responding to the controversy, Donner said: “It is a lot of commotion about nothing. Essentially, we have no difference of opinion”.
He pointed out that the legalisation of soft drugs in Europe is a policy of the Democrat D66 and that Pechtold - who was recently appointed a D66 minister following the resignation of Thom de Graaf - had been speaking about the future of soft drugs policy on Monday.
Donner said the current issue was combating criminality and drugs problems and maintaining government policy against cannabis production.
D66 leader Boris Dittrich also defended Pechtold on Tuesday, stressing that neighbouring countries are increasingly understanding of the Dutch policy of toleration when it comes to soft drugs.
He rejected CDA accusations that Pechtold made a “beginner’s error”, claiming that it would be ridiculous if a minister was not allowed to speak about problems in society. He said Donner and Pechtold will be able to work together.
Both the opposition parties Labour PvdA and green-left GroenLinks reacted positively to Pechtold’s statement. “There is now a minister who dares to think,” PvdA leader Wouter Bos said.
The social-democrats are opposed to continuing the present policy of toleration and are in favour of legalising the cultivation and transport of cannabis.
GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema said Pechtold’s statement was a “hopeful sound” within the coalition Cabinet.
MPs will discuss experiments in the nation’s soft drugs policy in an emergency debate with Minister Donner on Wednesday. At the insistence of Halsema, Pechtold will also attend the debate.
Currently, the sale of cannabis at coffeeshops is subject to a policy of toleration in the Netherlands, but commercial cannabis cultivation is illegal and subject to prosecution.