Amsterdam wants to ban weed tourism

The city’s mayor says pesky tourists looking to get high are the ones causing all the trouble

Amsterdam's residents have long had complaints about overcrowding, public urination, cleanliness, and a general level of annoyance with tourists.

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It’s news as grim as if Montreal got rid of bagels, Chicago got rid of deep-dish pizza, or Tokyo got rid of ramen. Amsterdam wants to get rid of weed tourism.

Specifically, Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema wants to get rid of pesky tourists who cause all the trouble in the city known for its famed red-light tourist district.

In a recent letter to council, Halsema writes that she wants to study ways to “reduce the attraction of cannabis to tourists.” That’s partially to reduce the numbers flocking to the famous city. And partly to enforce a clearer separation between hard drugs, which Halsema would like to see gone.

Weed has historically been the beneficiary of gedoogbeleid — a Dutch word for their “policy of tolerance” towards pot. But there’s no question that tourism puts a heavy strain on Amsterdam.

The city took in the bulk of the 19 million visitors to the Netherlands last year. The city’s residents have long had complaints about overcrowding, public urination, cleanliness, and a general level of annoyance with tourists. It’s no wonder.

When you show up in Amsterdam, someone has probably already offered you booze, pot or sex by the time you can say pannenkoek,” the Dutch word for pancake.

Halsema is really trying to address two problems with her proposal.

On the one hand, the stated objective is to deal with over-tourism. On the other, the country is trying to figure out what to do about an odd quirk in its weed laws.

The city’s famed coffee shops are generally allowed to sell weed, but it’s illegal to actually grow the plant. As a result, coffee shops generally have to buy from illegal sources.

The Dutch government recently approved a pilot project that would legalize the production of marijuana. But that program only covers some of the country’s smaller cities, not Amsterdam.

Will Halsema’s plan work?

The chance to smoke freely and live outside of prohibition for even just a weekend, is one of the city’s main attractions. Removing that incentive would considerably cut down the number of visitors to the city.

According to Halsema, 42 per cent of British tourists wouldn’t visit if the coffee shops were closed. For a third of British tourists, pot is basically the only reason they visit the city.

On the other hand, the same climate that allows cocaine, ‘shrooms, acid, you name it, to flourish on the streets of Amsterdam’s red-light district will surely find room to allow for some weed. How long before coffee shops are replaced with some other weed-friendly business? Or cops get bored of busting vacationing Britons puffing on a joint?

Halsema’s idea smells like a similar proposal tried in 2012. The infamous “weed pass” attempted to regulate the drug trade by creating a pass system that allowed locals to smoke up, but not tourists.

Back then, Amsterdam’s mayor Job Cohen led the charge against the proposal. He argued that it would simply push tourists to buy weed in the streets. It would also be a mess to enforce.

It may be only a matter of time that the current mayor’s nearly-identical plan begins to receive pushback. Besides, what good is introducing the world to chocolate sprinkles on toast without the munchies?

 

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