"No Toking" areas of Amsterdam may be expanded

An experimental ban on smoking marijuana on the street in one Amsterdam neighborhood was successful and other neighborhoods can now apply for similar bans, a city spokesman said Thursday.

But the measure intended to cut down on loitering and petty crime does not mean the end of the Netherlands' famed tolerance of weed and hashish, Hendrik Wooldrik said.

"It won't be applicable everywhere. You can't just say I think it would be nice to hang up a 'no toking' sign and then go do it," he said. "Requests by neighborhoods will be handled on a case-by-case basis."

The experiment began last year in "De Baarsjes," one of the city's poorer neighborhoods, where residents and store owners had complained weed-smoking youths were causing problems.

The neighborhood put up signs and slapped offenders with Ђ50 (US$65) fines. Wooldrik said the a review found the ban was effective in cutting down on problems in De Baarsjes and the city's council had voted Wednesday night to approve the use of such bans on toking in the streets in other areas.

Wooldrik said no other neighborhoods had yet applied for a ban, and it was impossible to predict how many would. "They will have to show evidence there's a need for it, that there are problems directly linked with smoking weed," he said.

Smoking of any kind is illegal in public buildings and workplaces, and frowned upon in most restaurants and bars, reports AP.

Marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but police don't bother prosecuting possession of small amounts. It is openly sold in designated cafes known euphemistically as "coffee shops."

Many of them are clustered in downtown Amsterdam and act as a magnet for young foreign tourists.

The policy even provided the city with a new line in merchandising it began selling "No Toking" signs for Ђ90 (US$115) each to prevent the official ones from being stolen as collectors items.

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