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Dutch treats

Sure, the Netherlands' marijuana laws are a puzzle. But California has its own peculiarities.

July 08, 2008

In the Netherlands, "secondhand smoke" takes on a whole new meaning.

The country is among the last in the European Union to impose a smoking ban in restaurants. Or rather, a cigarette ban. Make it a tobacco ban. Because while the smoking of conventional cigarettes was officially forbidden starting last week, marijuana is still allowed at the 720 cafes where it already was in wide use.

Of course, marijuana is illegal, even in the Netherlands, but the country's policy of "geodegen" calls for turning a blind eye to its own law. In fact, the special cannabis cafes are licensed to sell small amounts for consumption on the premises, where it is understood that customers will not be arrested or even questioned by police. Unless, that is, they mix it with tobacco. The Dutch prefer to blend their marijuana with tobacco for a smoother smoke. And now that is illegal.

We're confused too.

As supporters of tobacco bans in areas where the smoke can endanger the health or comfort of the public, we're glad to see the Netherlands take steps to protect its citizens, but we can't help wondering about its selective take on which forms of smoke can harm others and which can't. Maybe officials figure that the Dutch version of secondhand smoke confers a tangible benefit on nonsmokers nearby. At least those who inhale it are probably so relaxed that they're in no mood to complain.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, July 09, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 14 Editorial pages Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Netherlands: In Tuesday's editorial on the Netherlands' new smoking ban, the Dutch word for the tolerance of lawbreaking was misspelled. It is gedogen, not geodegen.

But before we chuckle at the Dutch pot paradox, we should check out the puzzling ways of cannabis right here. Marijuana is legal in California for medicinal use but illegal according to U.S. law. Last year, federal drug agents raided five medical marijuana clinics in West Hollywood, one of the handful of California cities that have instructed their police to make even recreational marijuana arrests their lowest priority. A Garden Grove police officer confiscated a driver's medicinal marijuana, but a judge last year ordered it returned because its possession was legal under state law -- though a federal agent acting under federal laws would have had the right to take it.

Oh, those wacky Dutch.

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