Amsterdam’s Special “Coffee Shops” Might Face A Ban

by Vrinda Jain
Amsterdam’s Special “Coffee Shops” Might Face A Ban

January 21, 2021

Ever since the lockdown began, people have been making lists of the places they'll visit post the pandemic. With new hopes in 2021, Amsterdam's "Coffee Shops" are in many people's top places to visit.

If you’re wondering what’s so special about Amsterdam’s “coffee shops”, the reason is the capital city’s flagship product — cannabis. The implication, here, of ‘capital city’ isn’t just about Amsterdam being the capital of Netherlands; Amsterdam indeed is the Cannabis Capital of the world.

Unfortunately, if you are one of the many vacationers planning to travel to the cannabis rich coffee shops in Amsterdam, you might want to put a pin in those plans for a while.

Netherlands Amsterdam Coffee Shop

New Rules Regarding Weed

In a letter dated 8 January 2021 to city councillors, Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema proposed implementing a “resident criterion” policy that requires coffee shops to be used only by locals to make tourism more manageable in the city and regulate coffee shops’ supply chain.

Mayor Halsema submitted a plan that seeks to bar non-residents from purchasing cannabis products in any of the 166 marijuana-permitting cafe houses —coffee shops— in Amsterdam. The initiative is intended to prevent international tourists from viewing Amsterdam as a “soft drug tourism” destination.

Currently, the city’s website urges visitors not to travel to the town unless necessary, but after the COVID-19 pandemic danger wanes, the mayor set on bending the rules regarding marijuana and drug policies in the city.

Tourists could be banned from Amsterdam's cannabis coffee shops from next year as a part of plans to wipe out organised crime and reduce drugs tourism in the city. Dutch residents to enter its 166 marijuana-selling coffee shops.

Why the New Rules?

The main reason for the supposed crackdown is cited as the ever-increasing number of tourists in the largest city of the Netherlands who merely come to consume cannabis in the “coffee shops”, making lives of the locals a bit difficult.

According to the mayor’s plans, the council aims to wipe out organised crime and decrease drugs tourism in the city. If implemented, the new laws will result in potentially outlawing tourists from Amsterdam’s cannabis coffee stores starting next year.

Amsterdam- the World Capital of Cannabis

Like most of the world, cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands. But it is decriminalised for personal use, and recreational consumption of the drug is tolerated. Possession of fewer than 5 grams of weed (0.18 ounces) was decriminalised under a ‘tolerance’ policy in 1976. In practice, only Dutch citizens are permitted to buy cannabis in the coffee shops, although there is an exception for Amsterdam stores.

According to the Health ministry, there are 570 shops across the country, out of which Amsterdam alone has 166 shops. Amidst the on-going pandemic, these shops were shut down, but purchases were made outside of these shops through takeout or delivery options.

A majority of coffee shops in the city sell a comprehensive selection of weed and hash, available from 5 to 20 euros per grams. The limit is set at 5 grams per person, with all eligible customers being over 18 years of age and with a valid ID.

For decades, Amsterdam has also hosted the ‘Cannabis Cup Festival’, an event dedicated to celebrating cannabis culture. Cannabis culture in Amsterdam is also widely portrayed in pop culture films like Cheech and Chong’s Still Smokin’ and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

A customer buys cannabis in an Amsterdam coffee shop. Photograph: Evert Elzinga/EPA

A Destination for the Weed-Curious

There are various coffee shop laws in different municipalities in the Netherlands. There are no new debates on banning everyone except Dutch citizens.

In a survey done in August 2019, which examined 1,100 international visitors among the ages of 18 and 35 attending Amsterdam’s Red Light District, over half of those surveyed said they decided to visit the Dutch capital because they wanted to experience a cannabis cafe.

The findings showed that 34% of the tourists would decrease their trips to Amsterdam if they could not buy weed from the coffee shops, while 11% said they would not come at all. The study also revealed that visitors strongly appeal more towards the active cannabis culture that currently exists.

Concerns Over Drug Trade

In her letter, mayor Halsema also mentioned the concerns about the supply chain for the city’s coffee shops. The police overwhelmed with cases, and the links to the drug trade are firmly bound in the hundreds of coffee shops.

Her letter outlined a new policy that will focus on local control of the cannabis industry by creating the Amsterdam coffee shop “brand”. This will restrict coffee shops’ capacity to become chains and prohibit tourists from entering coffee shops outside the legal ambit of Netherlands.

The mayor further stated that the new laws might bolster a move into the illicit cannabis market as a side-effect, but she considers that as a temporary hazard of a problem that can be much grinding in the long run.

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