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Amsterdam Mayor Moves To End Cannabis Tourism

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

April 13, 2022

Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema intends to pursue a proposal to ban foreign tourists from the city’s infamous “coffee shops” that sell cannabis, saying that the plan is the only way to bring the market for illicit drugs under control. Cannabis tourism has been a staple of Amsterdam’s image for decades.

On Monday, Halsema told the city council that there is a “worrying interdependence” between Amsterdam’s cannabis economy and groups trafficking more dangerous drugs and that “money from the lucrative cannabis trade easily finds its way into hard drugs,” as quoted by a report from DutchNews.

“Many of the major problems in the city are fueled by the cannabis market: from nuisance caused by drug tourism to serious crime and violence,” she said. “Banning sales to tourists is a necessary intervention… and a first step towards regulation.”

Each year, more than three million foreign tourists visit one of the coffee shops in Amsterdam, the only part of the Netherlands that has not restricted access to the cannabis retailers to local residents. Research has suggested that only 66 of the city’s 166 licensed cannabis shops are needed to meet local demand. 

Although cities that have chosen to ban tourists from coffee shops have seen an increase in street drug dealing, Halsema believes the policy is the only option to control the trafficking of drugs in Amsterdam. She said that it is the best way to manage the legal cannabis market while pilot programs to produce a local supply of regulated cannabis are underway.

A dark alley at night with bright lights in Amsterdam
Photo Credit: Jon Vedsted Jørgensen

But the mayor’s plan is not supported by two of the city’s most influential political parties, the Democrats (D66) and the GreenLeft (GroenLinks). The Labor Party (PvdA), which became Amsterdam’s largest after last month’s elections, has indicated it will support a residents-only rule if the city is able to control street drug dealing.

However, the mayor does not need the support of a majority of city council to ban foreign tourists from Amsterdam’s coffee shops. If Halsema declares the situation a “necessity,” she has the authority to implement the move without a vote by the council.

Amsterdam Cannabis Tourism Ban First Pitched Two Years Ago

Halsema’s bid to restrict cannabis tourism goes back to February 2020, when city leaders were trying to develop proposals to reduce tourist crowding in Amsterdam’s Wallen and Singel areas, which have a concentration of red-light businesses and coffee shops. She proposed restricting foreign tourists’ access to the cannabis outlets, citing research she commissioned that showed a third of visitors would come less often if they were barred from pot shops.

In a survey conducted by Amsterdam’s Research, Information, and Statistics Office, pollsters determined that 34 percent of those who come to Wallen and Singel would visit less often if foreigners were banned from coffee shops. The figure was even higher for tourists from the U.K.

“For British visitors, coffee shops by far are the most frequently mentioned main reason to come to Amsterdam (33 percent),” the agency wrote. “They cite walking or cycling through the city less often as the main reason (21 percent) than the average (32 percent) and, on the contrary, more often indicate that a cheap trip was the main reason (11 percent compared with six percent on average).”

The survey of visitors to the Wallen and Singel areas aged 18 to 57 also found that 11 percent would stop visiting Amsterdam altogether if a ban on foreign patronage of coffee shops was put in place. Among visitors of all nationalities, 40 percent said they would continue to visit the city but would refrain from enjoying cannabis. Halsema attached the results of the survey to a letter to members of the city council, announcing her intention to explore options to reduce the attraction of using drugs for tourists.

The proposal to bar tourists from coffee shops resurfaced last year as Amsterdam began to emerge from lockdowns put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

“Amsterdam is in a lucky position where it could really use the pandemic to try some new things,” said Ko Koens, professor of new urban tourism at Inholland University of Applied Sciences, adding, “This is the time to experiment.”

A.J. Herrington

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A.J. Herrington

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