Cannabis Tourism –

A Threat to The City or a Cultural Characteristic

By Elitsa Kaleva | Metro City | November 4, 2022

Cover Illustration: Man in a convenience store in Amsterdam shop, November 17 2022. Simon Ordonez/The Amsterdammer

Metro city reporter Elitsa Kaleva investigates the public perception of the proposed cannabis tourism ban in Amsterdam.

Cannabis related products sold in Amsterdam shop, November 17 2022. Simon Ordonez/The Amsterdammer

Earlier this year, the mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, proposed a temporary ban on foreign tourists in the city’s coffeeshops. Despite unpromising results for the ban thus far, the mayor has not given up. This is not the first attempt at a cannabis tourism ban, and certainly not the last. By restricting access to marijuana products for non-residents, Halsema aims to constrict the cannabis market and the consumption of hard drugs to reduce the prevalence of criminal organizations. Undoubtedly, said attempts will continue. However, the essential questions are: What are the potential consequences of such a ban? And how do people align cannabis tourism with the image of Amsterdam? 

Cannabis Museum in Amsterdam shop, November 17 2022. Simon Ordonez/The Amsterdammer

The ban on cannabis tourists has a long history in Amsterdam as well as many other cities in the Netherlands. In 2011, the coffeeshops in Maastricht were restricted to only selling cannabis-containing products to Dutch, German, and Belgian residents. However, a year later, the ban once again narrowed the scope of clients, allowing only Dutch residents to buy cannabis products from coffeeshops. Valid ID cards or residence permits are required for scanning in the coffeeshops of Maastricht today. Could that be the future for Amsterdam?

32-year-old Romina Dehzani, who visited Amsterdam for the weekend, says about cannabis tourism: “For me, it’s not that important, but I think it’s a charm of the city”. Regarding the potential consequences of such a ban, Romina says: “There would probably be more criminal people on the streets. You will be able to buy it, just not in a safe way”.

Throughout the years, the number of coffeeshops in the city has dramatically decreased. Whilst in 1993, there were more than 400 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, only 164 were still open in 2018. “Coffeeshops bring most of the tourists to Amsterdam. Such a ban will negatively affect our coffeeshop since 90% of our clients are tourists”, says 43-year-old Daphne Ottenhof, who works in Coffeeshop Basjoe in the heart of Amsterdam. Even on a rainy and gloomy day, Basjoe’s tables are not empty, and there is a persistent flow of customers. “It’s part of the culture of the city”, adds Daphne with a smile and turns to the queue.

In 2019, at the mayor’s request, the Onderzoek en Statistiek (Research and Statistics) published a research survey in which 1161 tourists between the ages of 18 to 35 were interviewed regarding the role of coffeeshops in the decision of tourists to travel to Amsterdam. The survey results suggest that two-thirds of the interviewed tourists visited the city primarily because of the cannabis legalization in the country. Furthermore, some answered that if the city bans non-residents from its coffeeshops, they will find another way to purchase cannabis-containing products.

Lighting a joint next to a canal, Amsterdam, November 17 2022. Simon Ordonez/TheAmsterdammer

The dispute has continued for the past 20 years without consensus. For coffeeshop owners and employees, cannabis tourism is congruent to their livelihoods, especially after the COVID-19 restrictions on travelling. A ban on cannabis tourism would dramatically affect their financial situation. Whilst a major part of the tourists perceive coffeeshops as a cultural characteristic inseparable from Amsterdam’s image, authorities consider cannabis tourism a threat to the city.

Elitsa Kaleva is an university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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