The Dutch city wants to suppress the number of "drug tourists" and plans to ban the sale of marijuana to foreigners in its famous coffee-shops
At the beginning of this month, the New York Times published an article with the alarming headline: In Amsterdam, getting high in cafes may soon be reserved for locals. Femke asserted his unilateral power as mayor to advance his plan as the newspaper reported Het Parool : Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema has proposed a plan that should be adopted by the city that would only allow the sale of marijuana products to Dutch nationals and residents of the Netherlands. Ms Halsema wants to stop the flow of young tourists who visit Amsterdam just to smoke marijuana and to undermine the criminal organizations that control the drug trade.
Here's what's really going on in Amsterdam
What is factual is that the mayor of Amsterdam did indeed make such a proposal, specifying the exact reasons that prompted him to do so. And the proposal is likely to be adopted. But not by a vote of the city council. Instead, Halsema asserted his unilateral power as mayor to move the plan forward, as Dutch newspaper Het Parool reported:
The mayor must federate his municipal council, because the bill risks encountering strong opposition, as already in the past and which could cause him to lose his mandate. In Amsterdam, as in other cities, every attempt to ban access to coffeshops for tourists has been unsuccessful.
The mayor's race around the city council is necessary as the proposal risks meeting strong opposition, enough to bring it down. As has happened on numerous occasions in the past - in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities - when similar attempts to deny tourists access to coffeeshops were either completely blocked or put in place only briefly. before being canceled or ignored.
The ban on tourists would be a "jackpot" for street dealers
According to Derrick Bergman, journalist, activist and president of the Netherlands-based Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition, it's because pushing tourists out of coffeeshops always has the opposite effect. Unable to find what they're looking for in a regulated retail environment, tourists will inevitably give their money to street vendors who also sell cocaine, opioids, and other more dangerous drugs.
All of this will be consumed in public, and 100% of the proceeds will go to the same illicit criminal organizations that the stay ban is supposed to subvert.
“For dealers,” says Bergman, “the stay ban is the Mega Jackpot.
Similar bans are not applied in other cities
Bergman also accuses the mayor and other proponents of the proposal of misleading the public by claiming that a stay ban already exists in much of the rest of the Netherlands. When a report by research firm Breuer & Intraval shows that no more than seven of the country's 102 coffee municipalities currently enforce such a ban, the mayor and other supporters of the proposal are accused of deceiving the public by claiming that a tourist ban already exists in most of the other Netherlands.
“The residency criterion is hardly applied in Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Groningen and dozens of other cities,” says Bergman. To claim that Amsterdam will now apply such a rule “like everyone else” is a distortion of reality ”.
Not that the New York Times tells you all this, however the newspaper made 14 substantive paragraphs before presenting the only dissenting voice. By the way, the journalist cited only one coffeshop owner, because he wondered, with reason, if alcohol was not the real reason for the noise of tourists and not cannabis.
The politics of moral symbolism
Tim Verlaan, assistant professor of urban history at the University of Amsterdam, was recently quoted at length in an article in The Washington Post detailing how coronavirus lockdown has offered Amsterdam residents a radical break with over-tourisme crawling, leaving many people looking for ways to systematically address the post-pandemic problem.
“Before the corona crisis,” said Mr. Verlaan, “you often heard people say that the constant growth of tourism was like a force of nature: unstoppable. But it was, of course, a question of politics ”.
Alcohol creates turbulence, not grass
Does this mean that opponents of disruptive tourism should support coffeeshop residency criteria?
Not according to Verlaan, who agrees that alcohol is much more to blame for antisocial behavior than cannabis.
And yet no one suggests banning tourists from the city's more than 1000 bars and pubs.
"I don't know if you've ever smoked a joint yourself?" Verlaan recently asked the hosts of the Dutch radio show 'With a View to Tomorrow'. “A satisfied smoker is not a troublemaker. It is therefore a symbolic moralizing policy led by the mayor. If you want to tackle the problem, try to limit the growth of cheap flights [to Amsterdam], reduce the number of hotel rooms and do something about vacation rentals ”.
A tourist attraction is a problem?
To justify her role as the scapegoat for cannabis coffeeshops, Mayor Halsema consistently invokes a single survey - also cited by the New York Times - which showed that "57% of foreigners visiting central Amsterdam say that the visit of a coffeeshop is a "very important reason" for their visit ".
It should be noted that only 22% of them cited cannabis as the main reason for their visit, not to mention their only reason. And the fact that this city-funded and conducted investigation, presumably to discredit coffeeshops, took place entirely within the Red Light District. The latter is home to a concentration of coffeeshops largely disproportionate to the rest of the city center.
Cafes trying to survive the pandemic
Over the past two decades, bureaucratic efforts to curb coffeeshop activity have already reduced the number of such establishments in Amsterdam from 283 to 166, all of which offered only take-out during the pandemic.
According to Mayor Halsema's plan, that number would be reduced to just 66, with the remaining coffeeshops moved from the current gray market to a new, fully legalized and regulated system for growing and distributing cannabis. Ironically, the mayor's own party, the GroenLinks (or Green Left) party, has been at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to bring coffeeshop operators and suppliers out of the shadows and bring them into the limelight. compliance with the law.
While Amsterdam has long been an international beacon of 'legalized cannabis', what few understand is that the entire coffeeshop system was born out of an act of mass civil disobedience, and remains to this. technically outside the law - as shown Leafly's full story on how the Dutch spread cannabis around the world:
Beginning in 1964, the Dutch Provo movement (short for "provocateurs") used a mixture of street performances, subversive art and improvised political demonstrations to attack a system run by "despicable plastic people" and push for a series of progressive reforms that included the immediate legalization of cannabis….
In 1969, Dutch authorities issued law enforcement guidelines that prioritized the police not to enforce laws against cannabis possession. Then in 1972, a Dutch student by the name of Wernard Bruining and a few friends exercised rights to squat an abandoned bakery and turned it into Mellow Yellow, a tea room on a side street that quickly drew crowds for its regular supply of cannabis, which could be purchased from an employee posing as a customer.
Don't give up on your post-pandemic vacation plans
So where does this take us?
As reported by the New York Times, then the world, Amsterdam's proposed cannabis coffeeshop tourist ban could go into effect in 2022. But that's far from certain. And even if the ban goes into effect, it probably won't last long.
Indeed, the results would likely be disastrous, not only for the city's residents and tourists who visit it, but also for the coffeeshops themselves, which depend on foreign visitors for profit. The only real winners would be the street vendors and their criminal backers, as Dutch TV journalist Gerri Eickhof noted in a segment aired outside Amsterdam's Jolly Joker cafe.
I have lived in this neighborhood for a long time, ”Eickhof told viewers,“ and I still vividly remember that, in the past, almost all tourists under 40 were assaulted by street vendors who hissed "drugs for sale". There was a lot of crime behind it all. The problem largely disappeared when cafes were regulated, with the explicit provision that foreigners were also welcome. And critics of this new plan now fear that if adopted, the old problem will reappear ”.