Amsterdam Moves Swiftly to Ban People From Smoking Weed in the Red Light District
As part of an ongoing bid to cut down on over-tourism, Amsterdam will ban tourists from smoking pot in the red light district.
Published on February 14, 2023

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The days of smoking joints in the streets of Amsterdam's famous red light district will soon come to a close, thanks to the city's new public cannabis consumption ban.

Amsterdam's city council just announced the public pot ban along with a whole slew of new restrictions aimed at cracking down on excessive tourism. Once the ban takes effect in May, tourists and locals will no longer be allowed to smoke weed anywhere in the red light district. The city council also said that they may even ban people from smoking pot on the terraces of cannabis cafes as well. 

Officials are cracking down on booze, too. Bars will need to close their terraces at 1 am, an hour earlier than usual, and will not be allowed to admit patrons after that time. Liquor stores are already prohibited from selling alcohol after 4 pm between Thursday and Sunday, but the new regulations will force them to hide all booze from sight during those times. The city will also require cafes and restaurants to close at 3 am, or 4 am on the weekend, and sex businesses will be forced to close at 6 am.

"Residents of the old city center are structurally and excessively bothered by the crowds and nuisance caused by mass tourism and substance abuse in the public space," the city council said in a statement reported by NPR. Officials argued that this overtourism comes "at the expense of the residents' night's rest and the quality of life and safety of the entire neighborhood." 

"Residents of the old town suffer a lot from mass tourism and alcohol and drug abuse in the streets", the council added, according to The Guardian. "Tourists also attract street dealers, who in turn cause crime and insecurity. Especially at night, the atmosphere can get grim.”

The new regulations are the latest stage in a major policy shift for Amsterdam, a city that has openly tolerated sex work and public cannabis use for decades. City officials used to actively encourage pot tourism, and even launched a marketing campaign urging tourists to come and partake in the city's legal “vices” in 2004. The campaign was a huge success, helping drive the annual number of tourists to explode from 11 million in 2005 to 18 million in 2018. 

This unending wave of tourism eventually caused rent and real estate prices to spike, and the droves of stoned, drunk tourists have become a massive nuisance to the city's residents. The tourist invasion has been linked to an increase in crime, as well. Locals were finally pushed to the breaking point, and city officials stepped in with a new plan to rein in the rampant overtourism.

In 2020, Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema announced that the city would ban tourists from visiting cannabis cafes or taking guided tours of the red light district. These plans were put on hold when the pandemic hit, but Halsema relaunched them last April. Officials even considered a plan to move the red light district out of the city, but this proposal has met with criticism from advocacy groups.

The ban will herald the end of an era for Amsterdam, which has traditionally allowed tourists to buy and smoke cannabis in specific, licensed “coffeeshops.” Cannabis is actually illegal in the Netherlands, though, so all of the weed sold in these cafes is entirely sourced from the black market. In 2019, the Netherlands launched a new pilot program that would allow licensed cannabis cultivators to supply legal weed to these cafes, but officials have not gone so far as to endorse full legalization.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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