Mayor of Amsterdam Threatens To Ban Tourists From Coffeeshops

Meghan Markle might want to trademark the word “archetype” for her own enrichment, but it just goes to show how universal some fights actually are. Not to mention how unoriginal the continual threats to one of the most enduring if not endearing symbols of Amsterdam continue to be.

The latest salvo against the city’s coffeeshops comes (yet again) from the city’s mayor, Femke Halsema, who has just unveiled her latest plan to ban tourists from the city’s cannabis cafes, and further with a well-worn excuse. Namely, to “get a grip” on the local soft drugs market, and the outdated rant that cannabis is a gateway drug to other, harder drugs.

It is a broken record—but sadly, one she insists on pursuing to the bitter end.

Here is her reasoning: According to some city officials at least, “only” 66 of the current 166 licensed shops are “needed” to meet local demand—meaning that she really wants to close down 100 (or about 2/3) of them. Further, according to Halsema, banning cannatourists in Amsterdam is the “best way” to manage the country’s pending cannabis cultivation trial (which of course excludes coffee shops in Amsterdam and other large Dutch cities)—rather than trying to integrate them into it—which is also inevitable.

However, the move is hardly surprising. Amsterdam’s officials have long tried to shut down the cannatrade against evidence that this unique aspect of Holland’s culture has not only become an enduring international symbol of the cannabis industry and reform but are beginning to be widely copied everywhere prohibition is finally receding. Apparently, these officials do not think that the attraction, which draws about 58% of tourists to the city, is one they want to continue to associate with Amsterdam. About 3 million tourists visit the city annually, specifically to partake in this unique experience.

Of course, both the industry and evidence say otherwise. Indeed, in smaller towns in Holland where coffeeshops are limited to local residents, there has been a resurgence in street dealing.

Beyond this, both of the largest parties represented on the city council, D66 and Groenlinks are opposed to the initiative, which was announced after the March local elections.

Regardless, Halsema does not need to rely on majority support if she declares the situation to be a “necessity.” She has also been on this particular bandwagon for at least the last two years.

So much for democracy, not to mention governing for and with the will of the people.

Amsterdam Prohibition Rears its Head as Progress Threatens the Status Quo

This is not the first attempt to limit the coffeeshop trade or even ban tourists from the same, much less from Halsema who has been trying to achieve this goal for the last couple of years. She has also used various excuses that more or less sound the same—including using the COVID pandemic to temporarily shut down all of shops—although also being forced to allow takeout service as the lockdown endured for the last several years.

Part of the problem, no matter how popular such destinations are with foreign visitors—particularly British and Germans—is that tourism constitutes only about 10% of the overall economy of the city. According to Halsema, “Amsterdam is in a lucky position where it could really use the pandemic to try some new things.”

Apparently, integrating the city’s coffeeshops into the national cultivation trial is not one of those ideas. Indeed, it is only being used as another excuse to shut down said establishments.

Why Now?

As much as this effort is clearly timed for publicity, it is yet another sign of how tone-deaf, if not enduringly anti-cannabis, elected officials can be to the advances of the industry, if not deliberately ignorant about the drug and the impact of its usage. 

There is zero evidence that cannabis use leads to harder drugs. Indeed there is more and more data proving that in fact it is a gateway off of them—starting with opioids.

Beyond this, of course, it is also clear in any jurisdiction which has proceeded with at least a semi-legitimized cannabis trade that banning parts of it do not stop demand—but rather drive it further into the black market.

That said, such regressive statements, attitudes, and outdated campaigns, are here to stay for some time in Europe as multiple countries wrestle now with how to integrate cannabis into the mainstream. See Germany, right next door, where the new national government, which used recreational cannabis reform as an election plank, has clearly pushed such a move to the backburner in the face of more compelling priorities.

The jury of course, is still out on whether the mayor and the “Dark Side” will win this salvo. No matter what Halsema and others of her ilk may want, or even wish to impose, it is unlikely that tourists will be effectively banned from such establishments—starting with the fact that in Barcelona, this has also proved to be impossible. 

It is also unlikely that Halsema will win in the long term. Some coffeeshops may close. However, those that survive, just as those which endured the previous purges, will only emerge stronger and more popular than before.

And that is an archetype that even Jung would approve of.

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