Amsterdam may be regarded as the cannabis capital of the world. The city is one of the leading destinations for tourists looking to take advantage of gedoogbeleid, the Dutch “policy of tolerance” towards cannabis. However, a proposed new law may deny non-residents the opportunity to experience Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops and all they have to offer.
The city’s mayor, Femke Halsema, has expressed her concern that the Amsterdam cannabis market is getting too big, and has increasing links to organised crime. She has backed recent proposals, aimed to come into effect next year, stating that only locals may enter the city’s cannabis selling coffee shops, in the hope that this will curb drug tourism and associated crime.
Cannabis has been available for recreational use in coffee shops in Amsterdam since 1976. Products containing cannabis are sold openly in the city’s 166 coffee shops, and possession of up to 5 grams (or 0.18 ounces) for personal use is decriminalised under a ‘tolerance policy’. Despite being the largest city in the Netherlands, with a population of just over a million, less than 10% of Amsterdam locals smoke weed. Concerns have been expressed that many of the coffee shops were run by criminals providing drugs for sale, however Joachim Helms of the coffee shop owners’ association BCD said the plans risked driving the soft drugs trade on to the street.
It is hoped that the drive to reduce the focus on cannabis tourism, will lead to visitors appreciating the city for other reasons. Halsema wants tourists to enjoy “its richness, its beauty and its cultural institutions,” rather than its drug scene.
Back in 2012, a similar proposal to halt the sale of cannabis to non-residents was opposed by Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of the city at this time. He asserted that the ban would lead to increased crime with drug users swarming “all over the city looking for drugs”. He also expressed the view that it would lead to more robberies, quarrels about fake drugs, and no control over the quality of drugs on the market.
Amsterdam’s cannabis market is currently heavily dependent on tourism, with cannabis users making up around a third of its total visitors. With an estimated 166 coffee shops selling cannabis in Amsterdam this move could see a fall in tourists and money. Mayor Halsema’s hope is that the city will recover and rebrand itself for a new market of future tourists.