The Amsterdam red-light district is famous for its open embrace of sex work and variety of cannabis coffee shops, making it a popular tourist destination within the city center. Though, the Netherlands capital city’s iconic De Wallen is about to enter a new era, one with significantly less outdoor cannabis smoke.
A ban on smoking cannabis on the streets of the red-light district went into effect on Thursday. It passed, in part, as a push from Mayor Femke Halsema to clean up the area and crack down on nuisance tourism. It specifically looks to improve conditions for sex workers, to reduce crime and limit excessive use of drugs and alcohol.
A New Approach For Amsterdam’s Red-Light District
The move followed an initial “stay away” campaign, which first geo-targeted young British men looking to party for the weekend and conversely suggested they stay home instead. The campaign also banned alcohol sales in shops over the weekend and imposed earlier closing times for window brothels and pubs,
The efforts follow years of complaints from residents about the behavior from the city’s approximately 18 million annual visitors. They also come in the midst of ongoing discussions around moving sex and drug tourism away from the city center, though residents in other proposed, alternative locations have expressed opposition.
With the new law in effect, both tourists and residents face a €100 fine (about $107 USD) for public cannabis smoking in and around the area, meant to “reduce crowding and nuisance” within the red-light district. People will still be allowed to smoke inside, on the terraces of cannabis coffee shops and in other parts of the city.
As Ban Takes Effect, Locals and Tourists Respond
Diederik Boomsma, a Christian Democratic Appeal councilor, has long pushed for tourists to be banned from buying cannabis at and celebrated the ban with a pointed statement.
“This will send an important message to the gormless and feckless who think they can come here on a holiday from morality,” Boomsma said. “Newsflash to all potheads: Go giggle elsewhere! Let’s hope that the citizens of Amsterdam reclaim their ancient, beautiful city centre from the glassy-eyed zombies.”
However, a number of businesspeople seemed hesitant on the eve of the ban, wondering if this might affect the character of the area and the overall tourist appeal, according to The Guardian.
“The soul of the neighborhood, what makes it so extraordinary, is slowly being pulled out,” said Jim Zielinski, a spokesperson for Bulldog coffee shop and board member of business group Biz Burgwallen. “It’s like a game of Jenga: Each time they take a block away, and at some point the whole pile will collapse.”
Some other business owners seemed less concerned, pointing out that keeping people inside could actually increase sales, the
Speaking with tourists Thursday morning in Amsterdam, The Guardian reports that most felt like the ban was reasonable, given that they could still smoke inside cannabis cafes. One student pointed out that the Netherlands rules as a whole were fairly tame, citing the €140 fine for public urination in the country that would put someone “on the sex offenders list for indecent exposure” in
In Amsterdam, it is a criminal offense to possess, produce or deal drugs, but it is decriminalized for personal use. The Dutch “tolerance policy” allows its sale in coffee shops under specific conditions.