Is Amsterdam actually going to ban vacationers from hashish espresso outlets?


Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article with this alarming headline: In Amsterdam, only locals may soon be able to get high in coffee shops.

Equally alarming was the second paragraph of the article, which explains what is happening in a factually correct and completely misleading manner:

The Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, [has] proposed a plan, expected to be passed by the city, that would allow marijuana products to be sold only to Dutch nationals and residents of the Netherlands. Ms. Halsema wants to stop the influx of young tourists who visit Amsterdam just to smoke marijuana and undermine the criminal organizations that control drug trafficking.

Here’s what’s actually going on

The fact is that the Mayor of Amsterdam actually made such a proposal, giving the precise reasons for it. And the proposal will likely be accepted. But not through a vote by the city council.

Instead, Halsema has used her unilateral power as mayor to move the plan forward, as the Dutch newspaper Het Parool reports:

Approval by the municipal council is not required. In the area of ​​security, the mayor has an independent authority. If the police and prosecutors continue to support the introduction of the resident criterion, Halsema can continue with the plans.

The mayor’s end to the city council is necessary as the proposal would likely meet stiff opposition there, enough to shoot it down. As has often been the case in the past – in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities – when similar attempts to ban tourists from coffee shops were either completely excluded from implementation or only made just before they were reversed or ignored.

Tourist bans would be a “jackpot” for street vendors

According to Derrick Bergman, journalist, activist and chairman of the Netherlands-based Union for the Abolition of the Cannabis Ban, this is because tourists are constantly being pushed out of the coffee shops. (Full disclosure: Bergman is a regular contributor to Leafly.) Tourists who can’t find what they’re looking for in a regulated retail environment inevitably give their money to wandering street vendors who also sell cocaine, opioids, and other more dangerous drugs.

All of this is publicly consumed, with 100% of the proceeds going to the same illegal criminal organizations supposed to undermine the tourist ban.

“For traders,” says Bergman, “the tourist ban is the mega jackpot.”

Similar bans are not enforced in other cities

Bergman accuses the mayor and other supporters of the proposal of misleading the public by claiming that most of the rest of the Netherlands are already banned from tourists. When a report by research company Breuer & Intraval shows that currently no more than seven of the country’s 102 coffee shop communities are enforcing such a ban.

“In Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Groningen and dozens of other cities, the residence criterion is practically not enforced,” says Bergman. “To say that Amsterdam will now enforce such a rule ‘like everyone else’ is a distortion of reality.”

Not that you knew about it from the New York Times, which went 14 paragraphs deep before it came up with a single dissenting voice. And then the reporter casually quoted a coffee shop owner as reasonably wondering whether alcohol – not cannabis – could be the real culprit when it comes to vocal tourists.


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The politics of moral symbolism

Tim Verlaan, assistant professor of urban history at the University of Amsterdam, was recently quoted extensively in a Washington Post article detailing how the coronavirus lockdown has allowed Amsterdam residents a dramatic break from rampant over-tourism, and many seek ways to do this systematically to address the post-pandemic problem.

“Before the corona crisis,” said Verlaan, “you often heard that the constant growth of tourism was like a force of nature: unstoppable. But of course it was a question of politics. “

Booze creates rowdies, not weeds

So does this mean that those who speak out against disruptive tourism should support the criteria of coffee shop residents?

Not according to Verlaan, who agrees that alcohol is far more responsible for anti-social behavior than cannabis.

Yet no one is suggesting banning tourists from the city’s 1,000+ bars and pubs.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever smoked a joint yourself?” Verlaan recently asked the presenters of the Dutch radio program With a View to Tomorrow. “A satisfied smoker is not a troublemaker. So this is all moralistic symbolic politics that the mayor does. If you want to address the problem, try to limit the growth of low cost flights [to Amsterdam], reduce the number of hotel rooms and do something about the holiday homes. “


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A tourist attraction is a problem?

To justify their scapegoat for cannabis coffeeshops, Mayor Halsema consistently refers to a single poll, which the New York Times also refers to. “57 percent of foreigners who visit central Amsterdam say that going to a coffee shop is a“ very important reason ”. for your visit. “

Unmentioned is that only 22% cited cannabis as the main reason for visiting, let alone their sole reason. And the fact that this survey – funded and conducted by the city, presumably to discredit coffee shops – was entirely in the red light district. There is a disproportionately high concentration of coffee shops here compared to the rest of the city center.

Coffee shops are trying to survive the pandemic

Over the past twenty years, bureaucratic efforts to contain coffeeshops have already reduced the number in Amsterdam from 283 to 166, all of which were only offered for take-away during the pandemic.

Under Mayor Halsema’s plan, that number would be reduced to just 66 and the remaining coffeeshops would move from the current gray market to a new, fully legalized and regulated system of growing and distributing cannabis. Ironically, the mayor’s party, the GroenLinks (or Green Left) party, was at the forefront of a national push to overthrow coffee shop owners and suppliers and fully comply with the law.

While Amsterdam has long been an international beacon of “legalized cannabis”, few understand that the entire coffeeshop system emerged as an act of civil mass disobedience and remains technically outside the law to this day – as described in Leafly’s extensive story How the Dutch Cannabis spread around the world:

Beginning in 1964, the Dutch Provo movement (short for “provocateurs”) used a mixture of street performances, subversive art and spontaneous political demonstrations to adopt a system run by “despicable plastic people” and pushed for a series of progressive reforms that included the immediate legalization of cannabis….

By 1969, the Dutch authorities had issued enforcement guidelines giving police priority not to enforce laws against cannabis possession. In 1972, a Dutch student named Wernard Bruining and some friends exercised the squatters’ rights to an abandoned bakery and turned it into Mellow Yellow, a tea house on a small side street that soon drew crowds for its steady supply of cannabis to buy from an employee poses as a customer.

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So where are things?

As reported in the New York Times and later around the world, Amsterdam’s proposed tourist ban on cannabis coffee shops could go into effect sometime in 2022. But that is far from certain. And even if the ban goes into effect, it probably won’t be long.

That’s because the results would likely be disastrous, not just for the city’s residents and the tourists who visit them, but also for the coffee shops themselves, which rely on foreign visitors to make a profit. The only real winners would be street vendors and their criminal supporters, as Dutch television reporter Gerri Eickhof noted in a segment outside the Amsterdam Jolly Joker café.

“I lived in this area for a long time,” Eickhof told the audience, “and I can still remember how in the past almost every tourist under 40 was attacked by street vendors who hissed“ drugs for sale. ”There was a lot of crime behind this The problem largely disappeared when the coffeeshops were regulated, with the explicit provision that foreigners were also welcome. And critics of this new plan now fear that this old problem will return if it goes through. “

David beehive

Veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock is the author of How to Smoke Pot (Right): A High-profile Guide to Getting High “(2016 – Penguin / Random House) and co-host and co-creator of the podcast” Great Moments in “Weed Story With Abdullah and Bean. “Follow him on Twitter @pot_handbook.

View David Beehive’s articles

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Beth Edmonds