Foreign visitors risk Amsterdam cannabis café ban | Netherlands

Non-residents risk being banned from Amsterdam‘s cannabis cafes as part of sweeping plans to deter organized crime and curb drug tourism, which has drawn mixed reactions from residents and business owners.

Backed by police and prosecutors, the city’s mayor Femke Halsema has tabled proposals allowing only Dutch residents to enter its 166 cafes selling marijuana, with the measure due to go into effect next year.

A government study has shown that 58% of foreign tourists who visit Amsterdam come mainly for drug use, Halsema said, while another study showed the city would support fewer than 70 cafes if only locals were served.

“Amsterdam is an international city and we want to attract tourists – but for its wealth, beauty and cultural institutions,” the mayor said, adding that the cannabis market was too big and had too many links to organized crime.

She said the city could remain “open, hospitable and tolerant”, but at the same time would make life more difficult for criminals and reduce low-budget mass tourism.

Cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but possession of less than five grams (0.18 ounces) of the drug was decriminalized in 1976 as part of a “policy of tolerance”. The production remains illegal, but cafes are allowed to sell it.

Halsema said the measure would take a few months to go into effect because it would require a consultation and transition period for cafe owners, and the city wanted to introduce a branding program for approved sellers.

Similar bans, backed by a 2012 law, already exist in cities like Maastricht and Den Bosch, which have long complained about excessive numbers of visitors who smoke cannabis crossing borders from Belgium, Germany and France. .

Fearing an out-of-control street market, Amsterdam did not impose the so-called “residency requirement” on its hash cafes, which make up around a third of the Dutch total, instead banning smoking in parts of the city and closing shops. individual stores. .

Fueled by cheap flights and online reservations, however, the number of tourists to Amsterdam – a city of 850,000 people – has reached nearly 20 million visitors a year, many of whom are young and on tight budgets. More than 29 million are expected by 2025.

The city has taken several steps to reduce the overcrowding and nuisance caused by overtourism in the city center, limiting the number of stores targeting visitors, cracking down on Airbnb, halting new hotel developments and increasing taxes.

Local businesses widely welcomed the announcement. Robbert Overmeer, of the trade association BIZ Utrechtsestraat, said that cannabis coffees were “one of the most important links in the chain of low value-added tourism”.

The city “doesn’t necessarily want people with a lot of money,” he told DutchNews. “We say come to Amsterdam for museums, for food, for love or for friends – but not to hang around, smoke drugs and do drugs.”

But Joachim Helms of the BCD Café Owners Association said the plans risked driving the soft drug trade onto the streets.

“Cannabis is a popular product that people love around the world,” he told Dutch news agency ANP. “People want to smoke their joint. If that can’t happen in a cafe, then they’ll buy it on the street.

This article was modified on January 12, 2021 to clarify that it is foreign visitors who could be banned from cannabis cafes (as opposed to people of foreign origin living in the Netherlands).

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