No more coffeeshop holidays to Amsterdam

Author: Ashita Khandelwal
June 1, 2021

It might be time for Amsterdam to bid farewell to cannabis tourism. The mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema wants to ban foreign tourists from buying cannabis from coffeeshops in Amsterdam to tackle the nuisance and crime. The number of tourists has increased in Amsterdam each year, with the exception of 2020, when the pandemic hit. In 2019, Amsterdam hosted 21.7 million visitors, which is a huge number for a city with a population of about 870,000.

Government research found that more than half of the foreign tourists in Amsterdam have drug consumption in their travel to-do list. If only locals were served, Amsterdam would support less than 70 coffee shops. Halsema argues that misconduct, rising property prices, commercialisation of public space and criminal subversion are all problems caused by Amsterdam’s soft drug tourism. 

Some of Amsterdam’s residents would prefer its post-Covid life to look like its current state, instead of returning to what it was. Prior to the pandemic, the atmosphere surrounding the coffee shops and the red light district had become increasingly aggressive, mainly due to drug tourism. Dutch police were also worried about the connection between the coffee shops and organised crime. Restricting access to coffee shops could help curb these issues, according to Halsema.

However, some members of the Dutch Cannabis Retailers Association bring a different perspective to light. According to them, this ban might actually lead to more crime and nuisance, as visitors would buy cannabis on the street. It would also make it more accessible to minors. Consumers would be at a greater risk of exploitation. This could potentially tarnish Amsterdam’s image as an international city. The potential ban on foreigners buying cannabis could result in a steep decline in tourism.Travel and tourism contributed over 46 billion euros to Dutch GDP in 2019, so this might be an important aspect to consider. According to O&S, the city’s statistics department, a third of tourists said that if they were no longer allowed into coffee shops, they would visit Amsterdam less frequently, with 11% even saying that they would not visit at all. But if Halsema is to be believed, this is no problem, as Amsterdam will continue to attract visitors through its museums and cultural heritage sites instead.

Amsterdam needs to focus on implementation to ensure that there is sufficient police and enforcement capacity, so that it doesn’t create a street-dealing city. Other parts of the plan, to introduce a ‘quality’ standard for coffee shops and allow them the freedom to store more cannabis, are good steps towards regulating the cannabis industry. Alternative ways to tackle the issues of nuisance and over-tourism could be limiting the growth of budget flights to Amsterdam and restricting the sale of alcohol. Amsterdam has 166 coffee shops right now and banning tourists from entering them would not only jeopardise their future, but would also have a negative impact on the feeling of public safety, particularly in alleys and dark corners, as the drugs would move onto the streets. Regulating the cannabis industry in Amsterdam is a balancing act and requires careful thought.

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