Pass the Dutchie Maastricht Coffee Shops Drop Plans For Biometric Security System

Plans for a biometric security system in cannabis-selling coffee shops in the Dutch town of Maastricht have been dropped -- but they're still going to be taking smokers' fingerprints when they buy their stash.

By in Berlin

Two men smoke a joint in an Amsterdam coffee shop.

Two men smoke a joint in an Amsterdam coffee shop.

Cannabis smokers in the Dutch town of Maastricht can breathe a bit easier. A proposed biometric security system the town's 15 coffee shops had planned on installing this summer has been changed due to its expense and threats to customer privacy.

Initially, the Maastricht coffee shop union's new security system required a customer to register and submit to face and fingerprint scans, which would have been stored in an electronic database. Despite the clear threat to customer privacy that the new system presented, the coffee shops felt it was the only way to protect their businesses from the stiff government penalties against selling more than the legal daily limit per customer, or selling to minors.

Marc Josemans, who has owned the Maastricht coffee shop Easy Going for 23 years, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that if a shop is caught violating these rules, it is forced to close for three months. A second infraction means a six-month hiatus, and a third would close the shop for good. In contrast, according to Josemans, a bartender caught selling to minors is charged a fine of a mere €360 ($483).

With 27 employees at his shop, Josemans, who is also the head of the town's coffee shop union, decided that even though these penalties are "completely out of proportion" to the crime, it was better to start working with the system than risk such stiff penalties. A security system was the only option, he says.

But, he says the biometric system turned out to be too complex, too expensive (at about €150,000 per shop) and too invasive to customer privacy. The shops will still install a security system, but it will no longer store customers' personal and physical data.

The new system, set to start in September, will cost each shop between €50,000 and €60,000 and will be able to check more than 1,200 types of identification. Additionally, shops will take customers' fingerprints, which will be thrown out at the end of each day.

Though several other shops in Maastricht declined to answer SPIEGEL ONLINE's questions, Josemans says they're all installing the new system voluntarily.

Josemans acknowledges that shops will lose business, but only in the beginning. "Don't worry, we make enough money, so that's not the worst thing," he says.

Technically, marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands, though it's tolerated in small quantities. Josemans says that if other European countries took more responsibility and devised more realistic cannabis policies, shops like his wouldn't have to make such drastic changes. He hopes that these countries will do just that when the United Nations' Commission on Narcotic Drugs holds its next annual meeting in 2008 in Vienna.

He is concerned that customers might turn to illegal drug dealing circles to maintain their anonymity, and Josemans says these dealers don't look after their clients as the shops do.

"I am not proud that now it will be more difficult to enter a coffee shop than it is for a terrorist to enter Europe," he says.


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