Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema submitted a plan to city council on Friday that would bar foreign tourists from the city’s famous marijuana “coffee shops.” Halsema floated the idea of limiting tourist access to the cannabis retailers in February in a bid to limit congestion and crime in the city.
Under Halsema’s plan, only Dutch residents would be permitted to enter the city’s coffee shops. The proposal, which is designed to stem organized crime and the trafficking of hard drugs, is supported by local police and prosecutors.
“The cannabis market is too big and overheated,” Halsema said in emailed comments reported by Bloomberg. “I want to shrink the cannabis market and make it manageable. The residence condition is far-reaching, but I see no alternative.”
The mayor expects the plan, if approved, to be implemented by 2022 at the earliest. Debate over the details is likely, including the drafting of a transitional plan for shop owners. The proposal is an effort to improve the quality of life for residents and reduce the city’s influx of tourists, which totaled up to one million visitors per month before the coronavirus pandemic.
“Coffee shops, especially in the center, largely run on tourists,” Halsema said. “The increase in tourism has only increased demand” while attracting crime and hard drugs. The mayor said that she expects the plan to be supported by the city’s business owners, many of whom have grown weary of Amsterdam’s reputation as an open market for drugs and sex.
“We can be an open, hospitable, and tolerant city, but also a city that makes life difficult for criminals and slows down mass tourism,” she said.
Plan First Announced Last Year
Halsema announced her desire for a plan to limit access to the coffee shops in February 2020, citing research that shows a third of visitors would come less often if they were barred from the popular destinations. The proposal came as city leaders struggled to reduce the congestion that has plagued the Wallen and Singel areas of the city, which have a concentration of red-light businesses and cannabis outlets.
The research, which was commissioned by Halsema, was conducted by the city’s Research, Information, and Statistics Office, who determined that 34% of those who come to Wallen and Singel would visit less often if foreigners were banned from coffee shops. The figure was even higher for tourists from the U.K.
“For British visitors, coffee shops by far are the most frequently mentioned main reason to come to Amsterdam (33%),” the agency said. “They cite walking or cycling through the city less often as the main reason (21%) than the average (32%) and, on the contrary, more often indicate that a cheap trip was the main reason (11% compared with 6% on average).”
Halsema also announced a willingness to address the dichotomy in the city’s tolerance of cannabis that permits the operation of coffee shops but forbids cannabis production. The lack of licensed cultivators requires coffee shops to make underground or “back door” purchases of cannabis, which are sometimes supplied by unscrupulous drug gangs.
In a letter to the city council, Halsema said she wanted to see “a study this year to reduce the attraction of cannabis to tourists and the (local) regulation of the back door … A clear separation of markets between hard drugs and soft drugs has great urgency because of the hardening of the trade in hard drugs.”