Amsterdam wants to ban weed to tourists
However, if the number of visitors is going down a bit, it might not be a bad thing. Home to 850,000 people, Amsterdam attracted 19 million visitors a year before the coronavirus. As with other travel hotspots like Venice and Reykjavik, the city has a problem with overtourism, a problem it has run into. Over the past two years, coaches have been diverted to the outskirts of town where possible, cruise ship visitors reduced by a new tax upon arrival of passengers, and Guided tours of the red light district windows prohibited. Airbnb-type operations are also illegal in three central neighborhoods. Symbolically, at the end of 2018, the Rijksmuseum’s iconic ‘I Amsterdam’ sign, a cause of selfie pilots, has been removed; a year later, the Netherlands tourist office put aside the promotion of the Dutch capital in favor of “destination management”. A ban on cannabis tourism could be the next logical step.
Joachim Helms, president of the Association of Cannabis Retailers in Amsterdam and co-owner of Green House Cafes in Amsterdam, is skeptical that it would work. “We see the kind of tourists who visit cafes every day, and these are people who stay in five-star hotels, who go to museums,” he says. “They will come even if there is a ban.” The survey cited by Halsema found that despite interest in legal weed, the number one draw for visitors was walking and cycling in the city.
Amsterdam’s status as a cannabis destination also masks an unsustainable paradox: while coffee shops can legally sell cannabis for personal use – a policy of tolerance introduced in the 1980s – it is illegal to grow marijuana, driving crucial parts of the industry underground. The Dutch government is currently piloting a program to enable the legal cultivation and supply of marijuana by 10 selected companies, which will be a European first. Still, some say the decision to ban weed from visitors to the nation’s capital is a step backwards.
“Weed is becoming legal around the world, and as a result, it’s also standardized,” Helms explains. “In Amsterdam, people are always going to want to smoke cannabis and they will have to go to an illegal street vendor. Reducing supply will not reduce demand.
While Cody Reid-Dodick, the US co-owner of the city’s (marijuana-free) cafe Good Beans, is used to locals balking at the Vegas-ification of central Amsterdam, he believes the issue obscures the contribution of the city. tourism to the economy: about $ 91.5 billion per year. “As a specialty cafe owner, what makes me nervous the most is when we just focus on overtourism and forget that Amsterdam should be a destination,” he says. “I’m afraid there is a slippery slope to being anti-tourist, anti-foreign.” Tourism not only makes money, he adds, but also helps spur ‘good’ tourism which also benefits locals, underscoring how much Copenhagen’s recent status as a first tourist destination only bolstered its craft-focused food and drink scenes.
The jury is out on whether the petition will pass when presented to city council on Thursday, January 28 – previous readers in 2011, 2012 and as recently as December 2020 have failed due to fears of a return to the street trade. But this is the first time that a city mayor has fully embraced this decision, while admitting that there should be a transition period for cafes, and for more research on effectively reducing street commerce, with a ban unlikely to come into force before 2022.
Udo believes the momentum is on Halsema’s side, highlighting radical urban initiatives in the COVID era, such as Paris’s plans to make the Champs-Élysées greener than ever. “The time is more current than 10 years ago,” she says. “The pandemic has created a vacuum giving the industry a space to reconsider what a sustainable, green visitor economy means in the long run.”