The online news portal of TV5
AMSTERDAM - Several hundred pro-cannabis demonstrators lit up joints in central Amsterdam on Friday in the most public display yet against the Dutch government's plan to stop the drug's sale to foreigners.
Pot-friendly protesters "flash-mobbed" in front of the capital's Muziektheater -- a venue announced only an hour before on social media sites -- where they played loud reggae music and unfolded banners before lighting up.
"We are here to protest against the cannabis card, we are legal consumers," rally organizer Peter Lunk told AFP, referring to the Dutch government's plan to introduce a so-called "cannabis card" for Dutch residents only.
Lunk estimated some 500 smokers gathered for Friday's "smoke-in," many of them wearing T-shirts imprinted with a marijuana leaf and carrying placards saying: "Weed pass -- no thanks" and "Weed pass, kiss my arse."
New cannabis-for-locals-only laws are to take effect on May 1 in three southern Dutch provinces -- North Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland on the Belgian and German borders -- and in the rest of The Netherlands in 2013.
The center-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has since September 2010 been weighing a "cannabis card," reserved for residents only and obligatory when visiting one of the country's 670 licensed coffee shops.
Dutch coffeeshops will now become closed clubs which will be allowed up to 2,000 members from among residents, including foreigners living in The Netherlands and aged over 18.
The move, which coffeeshop owners say would harm an industry that has been a drawcard for travellers for years, was taken to protect locals against the nuisance of drug tourism and criminality, authorities said.
Dutch residents have long complained about the impact of drug tourism including pollution, traffic jams, nighttime noise and a proliferation of dealers in hard drugs.
Earlier this week, Dutch cannabis cafe owners went to court to get an interim injunction to stop government from enforcing the law.
Although cannabis is technically illegal, The Netherlands decriminalized the possession of less than five grams (0.18 ounces) of the substance in 1976 under a so-called "tolerance" policy.