There’s a possibility that foreigners will be barred from the coffee shops of Amsterdam, where cannabis is sold openly. They amount to 30% of the coffee shops found in the country. This is one element of wide-ranging plans to reduce organised crime and drug tourism. Femke Halsema, the city’s mayor, has put forward proposals so that only people with a Dutch passport can use Amsterdam’s cannabis-purveying coffee shops. There were once 283 but that number has since fallen to 166. If it passes, the measure would probably come into practice in 2022. Such a law was enacted in 2013 but not enforced.

One of Amsterdam's coffee shops. Photo: Cannabis Culture

One of Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Photo: Cannabis Culture

Research undertaken by the government showed that 58% of foreign tourists come to Amsterdam mainly for the dope. Another study found that there would be a need for fewer than 70 coffee shops if they could only serve locals.

Halsema described Amsterdam as an international city that wishes to entice tourists. She would, however, prefer that these come for “its richness, its beauty and its cultural institutions.” The cannabis market, she lamented, was too large and had too many connections to organised crime. Limiting coffee shop usage would keep the city “open, hospitable and tolerant” while making it harder for criminals to operate and lessening mass low-budget tourism. More points against coffee shops are that the short-term accommodation targeting their customers is causing housing shortages for residents, and drug-dealing competitors have sometimes been killed in the street.

Technically, cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands, but decriminalisation of possessing under 0.18oz (five grammes) took effect in 1976. Production is still illegal.

Similar bans have already been imposed in cities, like Den Bosch and Maastricht, which wearied of large numbers of cannabis-smoking visitors. Wishing to avoid a street market that was out of control, Amsterdam did not go with a ban but instead prohibited smoking in some areas of the city and closed particular shops.

Propelled by budget flights booked online, the number of tourists coming to Amsterdam ascended to almost 20 million a year, many young and strapped for cash. Pre-covid-19, the expectation was for over 29 million by 2025. Amsterdam itself has a population of 850,000.

Measures have already been effected to reduce overcrowding and the nuisance resulting from tourism: the number of shops catering to visitors has been cut, Airbnb has been clamped down upon, new hotel developments have been halted, some buildings housing prostitutes have been closed and certain taxes have increased.

Local businesses are mostly in favour. Robbert Overmeer of the business association BIZ Utrechtsestraat denigrated the coffee shops as “one of the most important links in the chain of low-value tourism”. Interviewed on television, he claimed that Amsterdam “doesn’t necessarily just want people with a lot of money” but that those who come should do so “for the museums, the food, for love or for friends” and not to “skulk around” and take drugs. He bewailed that he has “seen tourists sleeping in their cars, peeing from the windows, leaving all their rubbish behind – and, of course, buying so many drugs when they leave that they’ll make a profit back home.”

Joachim Helms of the coffee-shop owners’ association BCD countered that banning foreigners from coffee shops would merely shift soft drug selling onto the street: “People want to smoke their joint. If that can’t happen in a coffee shop, then they will buy it on the street…. Anyone who knows drugs will tell you which is more dangerous.”

Andre van Houten, the owner of one coffee shop, Chapiteau, groused that his industry was getting the blame for the behaviour of British tourists, often male, who fly in on cheapo airlines, get drunk in the red light district and disturb the sleep of residents: “What is the problem here: drugs or alcohol?”

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