Feb 21, 11:08 AM EST

Dutch lawmakers extend tolerance to cultivating cannabis

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Dutch lawmakers on Tuesday voted in favor of tolerating the cultivation of cannabis, a move that could bring to an end a key paradox of the relaxed Dutch policy on marijuana and hashish.

Buying small amounts of pot at so-called coffee shops has long been tolerated in the Netherlands, but cultivating and selling the drug to the coffee shops themselves has remained illegal.

That hasn't stopped coffee shops flourishing since liberalization of drug laws in the 1970s, and becoming a major tourist draw card, particularly in Amsterdam, where tourists often visit the cafes to light up a joint.

A narrow majority in the lower house of the Dutch Parliament voted in favor of the new law that would extend tolerance to growers as well as smokers. However, the bill still has to be approved in the upper house, known as the First Chamber, where it is not clear if it can find a majority.

If the votes in the upper house go along the same party lines as in the lower house, the bill would be rejected, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported. That means that the issue could become a bargaining chip in discussions to form a new coalition after the Netherlands' March 15 lower house election.

Despite that uncertainty, weed sellers welcomed the vote.

"It is good news for the coffee shop industry because it will finally - if it passes the First Chamber - put an end to a lot of stuff we can't organize in a normal and transparent way," said Joachim Helms, chairman of the Coffee Shop Union.

Ahead of the vote, Alexander Pechtold, leader of the D66 party that drew up the legislation, said it would allow quality checks on cannabis crops, free up police and allow authorities to levy taxes on the huge pot-growing industry.

Afterward, he called the vote "a historic breakthrough."

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