Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Banning something illegal

I don't necessarily have an opinion about this one, I just think it is awesome. The Judicial Chamber of the Dutch Council of State, the Supreme Court for most administrative law matters, has ruled that the city of Amsterdam cannot ban "blowing", i.e. smoking weed, because this is already banned by the Opium Act. Of course, the latter ban is subject to a policy of condonement, meaning that it is not enfoced as a matter of policy, but that doesn't mean that using marijuana isn't illegal. Without further explanation, the RvS states that duplicating a statutory ban in a municipal act (APV) "violates" said statute, and is therefore null and void.

I suppose this is one of those cases where I would like to see a Dutch court explain what it is doing a little more carefully. After all, it is reasonable enough to argue that the system of the Dutch constitution demands that municipalities and provinces cannot duplicate a statutory ban without express statutory authorisation. Alternatively, we might reason that the policy of condonement trumps the municipal act here, despite the fact that that policy is promulgated by the Crown and not parliament. After all, there are plenty of areas where the Crown has power over the lower governments, including through the judicial chamber of the RvS itself. (As its rulings say, it does justice "in name of the Queen".) So it would be nice if the RvS would say which constitutional theory it is applying here. If it did, I would probably agree with the outcome.

UPDATE: I'm only surprised that it took this long: A Christian-Democratic MP is claiming that this ruling means that all coffee shops ought to be closed, because smoking marijuana is illegal. It could be worse, though. The newspapers are reporting his view and the ruling it is based on in an even more distorted manner. They're saying that the Council of State ruled that these municipal bans are not allowed because they're superfluous, which the court didn't say, because it isn't true. Moreover, they're reporting that the CDA thinks that this ruling makes closing the coffeeshops mandatory.

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