A citizens’ initiative to ban tourists from coffee shops has not been passed by Amsterdam council because only the mayor can make a ruling on this subject.
In recent months, residents, businesses and tourists organisations have called for measures to help change Amsterdam’s international image. According to Geerte Udo, director of Amsterdam&partners marketing agency, around a fifth of tourists visit to take drugs and ogle prostitutes and ‘those we can do without.’
Although a national law says that only Dutch residents can buy cannabis from the ‘coffee’ shops, Amsterdam has never enforced the ruling. When national drug laws were tightened up in 2013 there were concerns that if they were applied in the capital, drug dealing would be driven onto the streets and create more nuisance.
A motion this year from the VVD party to enforce the residents-only rule (‘i-criterium’) did not get enough support to pass the council, and the citizen’s initiative cannot be ruled on by a council vote, but the debate has increased the pressure on mayor Femke Halsema to produce a plan to reduce nuisance linked to drug tourism.
Earlier this year, she told councillors she wants to ‘reduce the pulling power’ of cannabis on tourists, and crack down on criminality. Currently, cannabis is supplied to shops illegally – because commercial growing is prohibited – but then sale of the product is permitted under a convention of ‘tolerance’.
Don Ceder, a ChristenUnie councillor who has been prominent in campaigning for regulation of the coffee shops, said that the citizens’ initiative could not be voted in for technical reasons but it showed that there are growing concerns.
‘It is necessary to radically change the image of Amsterdam because currently we are seen as the capital of cannabis,’ he said. ‘This initiative came from citizens and there is a bigger coalition of citizens, politicians and businesses who want to tackle this issue.’
He said that he expects the mayor’s analysis of the situation and the pros and cons of regulating coffeeshops to be shared in December and to be discussed by the council in January.
Robbert Overmeer, a local businessman and one of the drivers behind the petition, said that the council should seriously analyse the costs and advantages of coffeeshops, which do not pay VAT on their products. ‘They do not give anything to the city [in terms of cash] but cause a lot of problems in policing and nuisance,’ he said. ‘Amsterdam is a very popular place to come and smoke, but we don’t want this any more and enforcing the i-criterium rule would be a quick win.’
The coffeeshops association, the Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten, however, strongly opposes more regulation of coffeeshops saying that it would drive the trade onto the streets and increase nuisance around the city.
A spokesman for the Amsterdam mayor said that the mayor will make a proposal to the council around December 15, but is still working out the details.
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