The Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, wants to ban tourists in cannabis coffeeshops, in order to tackle antisocial behaviour found in the city. The toleration of cannabis was introduced in 1976 and, although production is illegal, the sale of small quantities is permitted.
Cannabis use is decriminalised in the Netherlands and sold openly in coffee shops. This was following the 1972 Dutch Government reform of classifying drugs into more dangerous and less dangerous drugs.
Amsterdam is famous for its freedom of life, attracting twenty million tourists per year. However, with this tourism comes consequences, and the consequences of drug tourism for cannabis is antisocial behaviour, with users letting go of ‘all discipline’.
Amsterdam resident, Bernadette de Wit, wants to rid what she claims is ‘low-value’ tourism, and the Mayor believes by taking firm action with a ban is the best plan to deter the antisocial conduct associated with cannabis-using tourists. Indeed, the Netherlands have already implemented measures to try to combat the drug tourism. A ban on Airbnb-style holiday rental was recently introduced, along with the already set out requirement that customers must show proof of residence upon visiting coffee shops (Although this is not enforced in the Capital). This is likewise with the famous red-light district, which the Mayor describes as a ‘jungle at night’, requiring more policing around the area.
With measures set to be in place, the Mayor aims to push the city upmarket and instead attract tourists for the city’s sights and museums, such as the famous Van Gogh Museum.
However, it is debatable whether coffee shops are behind the driving force of “antisocial behaviour.” The council have already closed a third of coffee shops and as Joachim Helms, the owner of the Greenhouse Café, states, ‘there are only eight coffee shops left in the same zip-code’ but there are ‘five hundred places that serve alcohol.’ It is questionable, then, whether the coffee shops are indeed the source of the behaviour that the Mayor wants to rid, or if these “five hundred” venues are the cause of the “lack of discipline.”
The regulations for cannabis appear ‘contradictory’: the prohibition of production yet the toleration of small quantity sales means that coffee shop owners buy their stock from underground criminal growers. With the reduction in coffee shops and tourism, Mark Jacobs, who runs the Rookies Club, believes this will fuel the very crime which the Mayor is trying to combat. Underground dealers will emerge for the demand of cannabis, with ‘new Al Capones’ being established. Coffee shops play an important role in the protection of young people and the influence of drug crime, by ensuring the availability of cannabis is through regulated and official vendors.
Small businesses have also raised concerns. Ryan, an Amsterdam Fishmonger, raises the concern that not all tourists to Amsterdam are for the tolerated use of cannabis. Many, as Ryan has experienced, come for products as simple as ‘some fried cod’, upon which businesses make their livelihoods – ‘I don’t see a bright side’ Ryan claims.
The Arranged Outcome
It may then be challenged whether a ban on cannabis is indeed the route to solving the behavioural issues, or whether this is simply the easiest method for notable results. Without a doubt, there will be a lack of discipline in behaviour from those who choose to indulge in the use of cannabis, but is this down to the cannabis itself, or down to the people?
To put in another way, perhaps the way to tackle the issues brought to the Mayor’s attention is to impose direct restrictions on its use, rather than an absolute blanket ban. For example, heavier charges for disorderly behaviour; a restriction on public use; or even checking a purchasers residence upon the sale of cannabis – these could all assist in reducing the antisocial behaviour. Furthermore, as already outlined, some people visit Amsterdam for reasons other than the permitted use of cannabis – perhaps the antisocial is actually down to the use of alcohol instead and this is the issue that needs to be tackled.
Overall however, many residents of the city do not see it in the same light. Police and prosecutors are in favour of tighter controls, and thus, it seems highly likely that visitors will be barred from coffee shops from next year.