Amsterdam Bans Cannabis Use on Streets of Red Light District

City officials are aiming to improve what they describe as a “grim” atmosphere.

For many tourists, Amsterdam’s red light district has long been a destination to escape the laws and restrictions of their normal lives, a place where anything goes. But the people who live there, it seems, are ready to chill out.

Amsterdam’s city council said last Thursday that it will ban cannabis use on the streets of the red light district, citing the “nuisance” and “grim” atmosphere that typifies the area in the evening hours. 

The officials said that they intend for the rule to take effect in mid-May.

“Residents of the old town suffer a lot from mass tourism and alcohol and drug abuse in the streets. Tourists also attract street dealers who in turn cause crime and insecurity. The atmosphere can get grim especially at night. People who are under the influence hang around for a long time. Residents cannot sleep well and the neighborhood becomes unsafe and unlivable,” the council said in a statement on Thursday. 

“A smoking ban on the street should reduce nuisance. We are also looking at a pick-up ban at certain times for soft drugs. If the nuisance does not decrease enough, we will investigate whether we can ban smoking on terraces at coffee shops,” the council added.

As Reuters noted, the move is “part of a campaign by Amsterdam’s first female mayor, Femke Halsema, to make the neighbourhood more liveable for residents.”

According to CNN, “there have been multiple initiatives to reduce the impact of mass tourism and nuisance visitors, and to revamp the area’s image” in recent years, including a rule that prohibited guided tours from passing by sex workers’ windows.

Since she became mayor of the Dutch capital in 2018, Halsema has made reform of the city’s red light district a priority.

In 2019, Halsema presented “four options aimed at protecting sex workers from degrading conditions, tackling crime, and reducing the impact of tourism in Amsterdam’s De Wallen red-light district,” CNN reported at the time, which included “closing the curtains on the windows so sex workers can’t be seen from the street, fewer window-style rooms, moving the brothels to new locations elsewhere in Amsterdam and the possibility of a sex worker ‘hotel’ being created.”

“For many visitors, the sex workers have become no more than an attraction to look at. In some cases this is accompanied by disruptive behavior and a disrespectful attitude to the sex workers in the windows,” the mayor’s office said in a statement at the time, as quoted by CNN.

In addition to the proposed smoking ban announced on Thursday the Amsterdam city council said that one “of the measures that has already been decided on is to have catering establishments and sex establishments with a catering license close their doors at 02:00 on Fridays and Saturdays,” as opposed to the current closing time of 3 or 4 a.m.

“Prostitution businesses may then remain open until 3 a.m. Now it is until 6:00 a.m.,” the council said. “To spread the crowds better, no new visitors are allowed in after 1:00 a.m. We also want to close the terraces at 1:00 a.m. in the summer months. That is now 2:00 a.m.”

The council also said that the sale of alcohol by shops, liquor stores and cafeterias will continue to be prohibited “from Thursday to Sunday from 4 p.m.”

According to CNN, it is “estimated that about 10% to 15% of Amsterdam’s tourist industry is based in the red light district,” which the Dutch commonly refer to as the De Wallen neighborhood.

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