The mayor of Amsterdam’s announcement that she wants to enforce a ban on foreigners in coffee shops in the capital to reduce nuisance has sparked mixed reactions.
News travelled swiftly around the world on Friday morning when Femke Halsema – together with the public prosecution and police services – published a briefing on a new cannabis policy aimed at making the sector more manageable and reducing nuisance and criminality.
Although the briefing needs to be presented to council before final proposals are drawn up, the regulation of coffee shops is the prerogative only of the mayor and she has until now fought shy of saying she would enforce a tourist ban.
For some local businesses, which see only negatives from foreign drug tourists, the news came as a great relief. Robbert Overmeer, who runs a bar and chairs the group of business owners BIZ Utrechtsestraat, organised a citizens’ petition last year and thinks it is only logical to enforce a 2013 law making coffeeshops residents-only.
‘She has dared to do it!’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘However, the romantic image of the coffee shops is still there and I think that is false sentimentality. Coffee shops don’t pay any VAT, there are only a handful who operate in the old fashioned way and many are in the hands of hardened criminals.’
He said that, while he was not against cannabis for Dutch residents, the Amsterdam coffee shops supported a series of businesses aimed towards low-rent visitors.
‘The coffee shops are one of the most important links in the chain of low-value tourism: Nutella pancake shops, cheap cafes and restaurants, souvenir shops that will take over the inner city. ‘We don’t necessarily just want people with a lot of money: we say come to Amsterdam for the museums, the food, for love or for friends, but not to sculk around, smoke dope and do drugs.’
Don Ceder, a lawyer and Amsterdam councillor for the ChristenUnie, who has previously tried to get the council to agree to more controls on the coffee shops, was happy, but said that there is still much work to do.
‘I think it is a very positive step when it comes to making the city liveable,’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘We need to focus on implementation to make sure there is enough police and enforcement capacity, and make sure that in the first period we don’t create a street-dealing city.’
But he added that the kind of visitors who returned after the first coronavirus lockdown made it evident that certain tourism was linked with nuisance.
‘When tourism restarted, it was really visible that those that came back were not the congress tourists or people who came for museums or culture but people who came for drug tourism. The extra visibility of the magnetic power of the coffee shops on the international image of Amsterdam opened a lot of people’s eyes.
‘I think that’s why the mayor and [police] commissioner decided this was the right step, and I agree. We need to change the international image of Amsterdam as the drugs capital of the world and if we do that I believe we will draw a different crowd and make sure the city becomes more liveable.’
However, some are not so certain. When national drug laws were updated in 2013, Amsterdam gained a special exemption for enforcing a residents-only rule in coffeeshops because of concerns that this would lead to greater levels of criminality and street dealing.
Joachim Helms, spokesman for the Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten (BCD), which represents coffeeshop owners, said that tourists will keep coming and demand for soft drugs will not stop when the supply is limited.
‘What the people who made this plan don’t realise is that cannabis is a popular product that people enjoy worldwide,’ he told the ANP. ‘People want to smoke their joint. If that can’t happen in a coffee shop, then they will buy it on the street.’
But he added that other parts of the plan, to introduce a ‘quality’ standard for coffee shops and allow them freedoms to store more cannabis, were a good thing. ‘But there is no link at all between all of these proposals,’ he added. ‘A more transparent market is a good thing but at the same time this plan is hugely negative for liveability in the inner city. That’s not a good swap.’
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