Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cannabis cafes face tourist ban as Amsterdam cleans up

Cannabis production is illegal but Dutch cafes are allowed to sell it to be smoked or eaten in a cookie with a coffee.

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Foreign tourists will be banned from cannabis cafes in order to tackle anti-social behaviour and push the city upmarket if Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema gets her way.

Owners of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops are pushing back. They have told the BBC that dope-smoking tourists are mostly harmless and if they are banned from regulated establishments, they will be pushed on to the streets and into the hands of ruthless drug gangsters.

Amsterdam is famous for its thriving nightlife, red light district and cannabis cafes which attract 20 million tourists per year. But like the rest of the Netherlands, the capital is currently in lockdown.

Some of its 850,000 residents would prefer its post-Covid life to resemble lockdown rather than return to what it was.

Most of the Netherlands already requires visitors to coffee shops to show proof of residence, but the rule is not enforced in the capital.

The city council has already tried other ways to reduce over-tourism. Airbnb-style holiday rentals were recently banned from the historic centre, and the future of the central red-light district is under discussion with proposals to create a sex zone on the outskirts instead.

Cannabis production is illegal, but Dutch coffee shops are allowed to sell it. This policy means the cafes buy their stock from criminals who grow the drug in the Netherlands or smuggle it in from places like Morocco, Jamaica, Colombia and Thailand.

The BBC asked Amsterdam’s local authority what it thinks of warnings from coffee shop owners that banning foreigners would merely force them on to the streets and into the arms of gangsters.

In a statement, it said: “A growing cannabis market generating ever larger profits is increasingly vulnerable to criminal activity. The current tolerance policy makes it difficult, if not impossible, for coffee shop operators not to maintain ties with illegal suppliers.”

But Mark Jacobs, who runs The Rookies Club on a narrow street in the shadow of the Rijksmuseum, believes the mayor’s plans will fuel the very crime and anti-social behaviour the council is trying to combat, saying, “It won’t be safe on the streets like now. You’ll get the new Al Capones, the new dealers will emerge, thousands of them.”

But many residents do not see it the same way, and with police and prosecutors in favour of tighter controls, it is highly likely that foreign visitors will be barred from Amsterdam’s cannabis cafes before long.

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