Amsterdam's reputation as a hotspot for pot tourism may come to an end, now that Mayor Femke Halsema is moving ahead with her plan to ban tourists from the city's cannabis coffee shops.
Although cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, several cities allow residents and tourists to get high in licensed pot cafes. Amsterdam has actively encouraged tourists to explore the city's unique red light district and pot shops since 2004, but decades of tourism have sent real estate prices through the roof — and many city residents and politicians have had enough.
“The coffee shops are one of the most important links in the chain of low-value tourism: Nutella pancake shops, cheap cafes and restaurants, souvenir shops that will take over the inner city,” said Robbert Overmeer, chair of a city business owners' group, to DutchNews. “We don’t necessarily just want people with a lot of money: we say come to Amsterdam for the museums, the food, for love or for friends, but not to skulk around, smoke dope and do drugs.”
One year ago, Mayor Halsema proposed a new plan to clean up the city's image by banning tourists from visiting the city's infamous red light district and from buying pot at coffee shops. This month, the mayor made her proposal official. In a press statement, Halsema said that barring tourists from weed cafes would “reduce criminal influences and bring the relationships between residents and visitors more into balance,” Ganjapreneur reports.
“I think it is a very positive step when it comes to making the city livable,” said Amsterdam-based lawyer Don Ceder to DutchNews. "When tourism restarted, it was really visible that those that came back were not... people who came for museums or culture but people who came for drug tourism.”
“I think that’s why the mayor and [police] commissioner decided this was the right step, and I agree,” Ceder added. “We need to change the international image of Amsterdam as the 'drugs capital of the world' and if we do that I believe we will draw a different crowd and make sure the city becomes more livable.”
Amsterdam currently has 166 weed cafes, accounting for about 30 percent of all of the Netherlands’ pot cafes. City officials actually passed a law banning tourists from these shops in 2013, but the law has not been enforced. All of the weed available for sale in these cafes is actually sourced from the black market, since it is not legal to grow pot, but Dutch authorities recently launched a pilot program to provide legal weed for these shops.
Halsema believes that the tourist ban will help clean up the black market, but opponents disagree. “What the people who made this plan don’t realize is that cannabis is a popular product that people enjoy worldwide,” said Joachim Helms, spokesperson for a group that represents coffee shop owners, to DutchNews. “People want to smoke their joint. If that can’t happen in a coffee shop, then they will buy it on the street.”
According to a survey from 2019, a ban on weed tourism would indeed deter some people from visiting Amsterdam. Out of 1,100 tourists who had visited the city recently, 72 percent said they had visited a pot cafe while in the city, but only 1 percent said that they came to see the red light district. Over a third of respondents said they would visit Amsterdam less often if they couldn't visit coffee shops, and 11 percent said they wouldn't come back at all if the ban was enforced.
The city council will still have to vote to approve the ban before it becomes official. Halsema plans to discuss her proposal with the council later this month.