AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The reputation of the Netherlands as the go-to country for a legal joint will begin to vanish like a puff of smoke next year as sales to foreigners of cannabis and hashish in coffee shops are banned.
The Dutch government has been clamping down on the sale of soft drugs since 2007 because of gang-related crime and concern about the risk to health, particularly as stronger forms of cannabis have been introduced.
"The Dutch drugs policy's appeal to foreign users has to be reduced," Dutch Security and Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said in a letter to parliament.
"Drug use by minors will be strongly discouraged and in particular, vulnerable young people will be protected against drug use," the minister added.
The new rules, which will first take effect in the south and gradually be extended countrywide, limit sales of cannabis to residents of the Netherlands who must enroll as members of a coffee shop, the minister said.
The rules will come into effect from January 1, 2012, but will not be enforced until May 1, starting in the three southern provinces where drug tourism is most common and regarded as a problem by many local residents.
The rest of the country, including Amsterdam, whose drugs scene is a tourist magnet, will enforce the new rules from January 1, 2013.
From that year onwards, a coffee shop can have a maximum of 2,000 members.
The Dutch government, whose push for a stricter drugs policy is led by the Christian Democrats party, will forbid any coffee shops within 350 m (yards) of a school, with effect from 2014.
The government in October launched a plan to ban what it considered to be highly potent forms of cannabis -- known as "skunk" -- placing these in the same category as hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine.
(Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger)