Amsterdam was once afflicted by excessive tourists but has now turned into a ghost town. What about Amsterdam’s famous non-red light district institution, the cannabis-vending coffee shops?

What happened when the pandemic began

At first, Amsterdam’s 167 coffee shops closed during the pandemic. This decision was promptly reversed because folk just resorted to street dealers. After that, unlike restaurants and nightclubs, coffee shops came to be regarded as essential businesses. More than half depended on international tourists for a goodly chunk of their revenue, They have sustained such a catastrophic blow that some people who work in them fear for their future.

”It’s been devastating”

Nick, who works at the Otherside coffee shop in the city centre, remarked, “For business, it’s been devastating.” Before the pandemic, the cafe was usually full during the week. But on the day CNN interviewed him, there was only one customer. Otherside, he commented, has become “very empty and boring.” Coffee shops outside the city centre, however, are “busier than ever” thanks to takeaway demand. This is because, according to Nick, everybody sits at home and smokes.

But people are smoking more dope

Trimbos, a Dutch mental health and addiction research institute, conducted a survey. It admitted the respondents weren’t representative of the average Dutch stoner because of the recruitment method. This was an online questionnaire and re-approaching cannabis users encountered during a previous study. But, of the 1,563 respondents, 41% were using cannabis more since the pandemic began and 49% were smoking as much as before. Three quarters used cannabis every day since the government instituted lockdown. The principal reasons for using cannabis were boredom, loneliness and stress. Maeve Larkin works in the city centre Hunter’s coffee shop. She commented that “takeaway business has been really good” because people buy more than when they smoke it in a coffee shop.

”It’s just dead”

Hospitality businesses have to adhere to strict rules. Customers must show a vaccination pass – a QR (quick response) code on their phones – stay five feet away from other people and wear masks. Coffee shops must stop serving at 10 pm but can sell takeaway cannabis until midnight. Per Larkin, this has put paid to “the relaxed vibe” of coffee shops: “Now, there’s two people at a table, and there’s no spontaneity”. Hunter’s “used to be packed all the time,” but these days, “it’s just dead.” Nick, on the other hand, believes that normality will return in March.

What’s coming in Amsterdam?

Coffee shops still have to contend with the possible ban on foreign tourists in coffee shops. Prior to the pandemic, some locals had fretted that Amsterdam was turning into a “tourist Disneyworld.” A statement by the city council last summer stated, “We do not want to go back to what we saw before the pandemic.” This saw “massive crowds” causing a nuisance to residents with their littering, noise and unruly behaviour. A government survey of 1,100 international tourists in the red light district in August 2019 found 34% of people would visit Amsterdam less often if there were no coffee shops. 11% wouldn’t come at all.

Joachim Helms of the coffee shop owners’ association BCD holds that a ban on tourists would be “a really bad decision” for those who reside in Amsterdam’s centre and particularly the thousands who work in coffee shops. As seen when the government closed coffee shops, people would just buy dope on the street. Coffee shop culture is unique to Amsterdam: “It would be really sad if it goes.”

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