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Amsterdam Is Trying to Kill Its Own Cannabis Tourism

PHOTO Javier Cruz


Amsterdam Is Trying to Kill Its Own Cannabis Tourism

Dutch capital is sick of foreign visitors. One technique to halt the swarm of foreigners with money? Bar foreigners from cafes.

These days, the stoner’s rite of passage to Amsterdam, synonymous with weed for decades thanks to the city’s ancient “policy of tolerance” towards cannabis use, or gedoogbeleid, has less resonance for Americans — why fly all the way to Holland when you can go to Denver, or Chicago, or Los Angeles or Seattle?

But even in the legalization era, there are still more than enough cannabis tourists swamping the Dutch capital for authorities to ponder ways to stop it. As The Guardian recently reported, about 17 million people visit Amsterdam, a hamlet of 1.1 million souls.

There are so many tourists in Amsterdam that the local tourism board has quit advertising the city’s sights — and yet still they come. What to do? The most obvious method — a solution floated in the past, is to shutter the coffee shops to foreigners, as Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema is reportedly pondering, while gathering data that supports the notion of a nuclear option.

Most cities don’t have Amsterdam’s problem. Tourist-inundated cities like San Francisco and New Orleans have aggressive marketing campaigns to welcome ever-more paying heads inside the gates, and even Las Vegas still feels the need to put its brand out there. This is not the case in certain European cities.

Venice has passed a series of laws banning various examples of “untoward behavior,” such as eating in public near monuments, which critics see as aimed squarely at kiboshing tourism. Amsterdam now bans group tours of Wallen, where sex workers engage in window advertising, and limits the size of group tours to no more than 15 people.

But it’s not enough! Weed is still too popular for Amsterdam’s own good.

Despite decades of de-facto tolerance, cannabis still exists in the Pulp Fiction paradox. Cultivation is illegal, and so coffeeshops must come up with a sourcing solution that involves the illicit market in some way. Policy hasn’t advanced much despite a worldwide appetite and seismic shifts in cannabis policy in other countries.

And there doers not appear to be much interest in changing things one way or the other — at least for the Dutch. Recent changes in national law mean coffee shop patrons are legally required to show proof of Dutch residency, but these laws haven’t been enforced in Amsterdam or Rotterdam.

Halsema, a leftist politician who took office in 2018, recently circulated a survey conducted by the city’s in-house statistics office. According to 1,161 foreign visitors polled — including 100 British tourists, all of whom were between the ages of 18 and 35, 34 percent said they would come to Amsterdam less often if they weren’t allowed to buy weed — and 11% said they’d never return to Amsterdam at all, The Guardian reported.

“For British visitors, coffee shops are by far the most frequently mentioned main reason to come to Amsterdam,” according to results from the survey, which Halsema circulated to city councilors and other local officials, whom she’ll supposedly try to sell on a cannabis-focused tourism-stoppage solution.

“Supposedly,” because despite rumors to the contrary, Halsema doesn’t want to kill the Amsterdam vibe — at least outwardly. Mayoral spokesman Sebastiaan Meijer told English-language DutchNews.NL that there are currently “no plans to ban foreign residents from coffeeshops, but is researching policies that would make them less attractive.”

Reports of Amsterdam’s cannabis culture dying have been exaggerated in the past, but there really appears to be serious appetite to tamp everything down. Cannabis Cups have been stymied. Other cities have banned foreigners. What are Amsterdam’s options at this point, if it really wants to cut down on ill-behaving weedheads from abroad? Aside from removing the roof or playing Ed Sheeran on repeat at maximum volume, there appears to be no ready or easy way to do this beyond cutting off their weed supply. Coffeeshops may complain and foreigners may find different solutions — that is, things will regress to some kind of even grayer area that will challenge law-enforcement to enforce.

Barcelona, anyone?

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