By Roland Sebestyén
The Netherlands has allowed the sale of cannabis for personal use from licenced coffeeshops since the 1970s. However, the laid back approach that has made Amsterdam a haven for ‘cannabis tourists’ could now experience a significant shakeup. Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema’s proposal would entirely restrict foreigners to enter the premises.
According to Deutsche Welle, the mayor claimed coffeeshops – the name given to cannabis cafes – had become a problem for the locals. Moreover, it is reported that the city leaders and the authorities are growing tired of “mass, low-budget tourism.”
Ms Halsema told a Dutch public broadcaster: “Amsterdam is an international city, and we wish to attract tourists, but we would like them to come for its richness, its beauty and its cultural institutions.”
Following her announcement, she told Bloomberg that the cannabis market was “too big and overheated” and she wanted it to be more “manageable.”
She added: “Coffeeshops, especially in the centre, largely run on tourists. The increase in tourism has only increased demand and attracted hard-drug criminality in the process.”
It is hoped that the move, which would allow only Dutch citizens to enter Amsterdam’s 166 coffeeshops, would also serve to discourage organised crime.
The initiative is reportedly backed by the police and prosecutors in the country as they say the cannabis market has too many links with people selling the drug on the streets.
The proposal divided the city. While some argue the proposal might clean up the city’s image, others claim that the city would lose a significant amount of money in the future, and the ban would result in an increase in people turning to the black market.
Joachim Helms, spokesman for the Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten (BCD), which represents coffeeshop owners said:
“What the people who made this plan don’t realise is that cannabis is a popular product that people enjoy worldwide. People want to smoke their joint. If that can’t happen in a coffee shop, then they will buy it on the street.”
The Guardian cites government research showing that 58% of Amsterdam tourists cite cannabis consumption as the primary reason for their visit.
While cannabis is illegal in the country, possession up to five grams (0.18 ounces) of the drug was decriminalised in 1976. Furthermore, the sale of cannabis products from licensed premises (coffeeshops) is tolerated.
However, in recent years there have been increasing calls for lawmakers to address the contradictory policies relating to cannabis in the Netherlands – the most striking contradiction being that coffeeshops are still forced to rely on black market suppliers as the cultivation and production of cannabis remains illegal.