Tourist Coffee Shop Ban? Not In Amsterdam
By R.J. Villa
It seems that the fight to keep foreigner access to cannabis coffee shops in Amsterdam continues. Earlier this year in February, NUG Magazine ran an article about the conservative coalition government in the Netherlands that had been restricting tourist access to coffee shops in border towns, such as Maastricht. Over the past few months, Hollandâ€™s far right political leaders have continued to fly the flag of change as they continue to voice their desire to change the face of the Netherlands, ultimately shifting away from the coffee shop culture it has created over the past 30+ years of marijuana and soft drug tourism.
â€œIn order to tackle the nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drug trafficking, the open-door policy of coffee shops will end,â€ Dutch health and justice ministers wrote in a letter to the country’s parliament â€“ the New York Daily News reported.
While a sweeping ban on tourist access to the 200+ coffee shops in Amsterdam has yet to be implemented, the government in power has been approaching their plan for a ban a few steps at a time. This year started with the ability to restrict border town access; now, they are attempting to close the doors permanently on even more shops nationwide. The rumored implementation of a Dutch ID pass system, weed pass or local access card, has created fears among everyone who has grown fond of travelling to Amsterdam to visit its museums, catch a live concert at the Melkweg or Paradiso, and to take in a completely different cultureâ€¦with a pocket full of cannabis and concentrates, of course.
â€œLocal residents, especially in Amsterdam, are not in favor of this plan,â€ said Jon Foster, owner of the Grey Area Coffeeshop since 1994. â€œEconomically and socially, the effect of the plan would be, over all, negative. The common belief is that only a small number of coffeeshops in Amsterdam would be able to remain open if the tourists would not be allowed. Most importantly is the fact, however, that the system will not be implemented in Amsterdam.â€
â€œThe policy shift would turn the clock back on the experiment of coffee shops. There will be a rise in street and home dealings, which would blur the successful separation of soft and hard drugs. All income from the sale of soft drugs would be injectedÂ into the criminal world and the government would lose a large amount of tax revenue. A successful program, which has diminished long term usage of cannabis by Dutch people, would be ended. Youth will be more curious than ever about cannabis as it will become something that was successfully allowed for over 30 years, and then not allowed. Prohibition has negative consequences,â€ Foster added.
Also pouring water on the fires of prohibition panic, The Bulldog Coffeeshop has posted very encouraging information on their website about the proposed Dutch ID pass system:
â€œThere is good news for all the cannabis connoisseurs who like to visit Amsterdam and enjoy the wide variety of product that is available from the Dutch capital’s many coffee shops. The Dutch Tolerance Policy, that provides the legislation under which the Dutch coffee shops can operate, was renewed on 1st July 2011 and will be valid until June 30th, 2015.â€
This means that the feared ‘weedpass,â€™ a card only available to Dutch citizens that would factually ban foreigners from buying product at coffee shops, can only be implemented through local legislation. Since city councils like Amsterdam do not want the weedpass scheme and local politicians such as the Mayor of Haarlem have said they do not want it either, this means it will not be possible to implement it for at least 4 years during which visitors from abroad can still freely and openly buy product from Dutch coffee shops.
The Cannabis Retailers Association of Amsterdam released this statement in mid July to further extinguish the fears that tourists and coffee shop owners alike were starting to build with all of the media reports. Links to this press release are present on both Grey Area as well as the Rookiesâ€™ websites.
â€œThe concept of a â€˜weed passâ€™ that would restrict tourists from visiting coffee shops in the Netherlands has been on the table for some time. Reports that such a pass will be applied in Amsterdam are, however, completely without foundation. The Mayor and Council of Amsterdam are radically opposed to such a scheme and it will not be implemented in the city. For over 30 years, coffee shops in Amsterdam have provided a safe and controlled environment for consumption of soft drugs. This will remain so in the future. The wide choice of coffee shops available to tourists means that they will have no need to buy their cannabis on the street. Thus, the coffee shops are fulfilling exactly the function for which they were established.â€
Put forward by the Dutch Justice Minister, Ivo Opstelten, the â€˜weed passâ€™ is still at the proposal stage and will not be discussed by the Dutch Parliament until 2012. The Supreme Court equivalent in the Netherlands, the Council of State, has ruled that discrimination against tourists is outside of the law unless those tourists are responsible for more public disorder than residents. Within its ruling, the Council of State made an exception under which, in cases of severe public disturbance, mayors may discriminate against nonresidents provided that it can be proved they are responsible. Because coffee shops are notorious for their peaceful and non-violent ambiance — no coffee shop has ever been charged under a public order act — such an exception is somewhat academic.
Over the summer major media outlets were quick to the headlines with foreign tourist coffee shop bans, flooding the internet, papers and television with news reports alluding to their impending restrictions. This news certainly alleviates some of the panic that we needed to plan a trip to Amsterdam sooner than later if we wanted to experience or relive what Amsterdam has represented for over the past 30+ years.
These news reports released by major news sources across the globe such as the USA Today and the UKâ€™s Daily Mail to name a few continued to report about the Netherlandsâ€™ coalition government spearheading their quest to curb drug tourism as part of an effort to fight crime and promote health. In some small municipalities, smoking marijuana in public has already been completely outlawed. Prior to these restrictions, you were always able to smoke pot anywhere you could smoke tobacco, as long as there were no clear signs preventing you from lighting up. Now some of the smaller cities and towns have forbidden it in the whole municipality. Most locals in the Netherlands now recommend that you should consume your marijuana inside a coffee shop, your home, hotel or private garden, and no longer in public view.
â€œMuch stricter rules will be applied about the distance of the coffee shop from schools,â€ says the current Editor of the Amsterdam tourist information and travel guide website amsterdam.info, who preferred to remain anonymous. â€œIn principle, as far as I remember, coffee shops are not allowed within 250 meters. But, there are no rules in practice. Whether it is true walking distance or straight line, this could be much more severe for some shops because when you walk, you turn around the corners. More coffee shops will close, but most of them will probably move. Amsterdam is an old city with many small schools. There is now talk over the ‘close vicinity of schools’ and this gives the municipality a possibility to close most of the coffee shops, because in Amsterdam everything is close to anything. 250 meters is already a very sharp rule in this densely populated city that is covered with townhouses. This will diminish the number of coffee shops in the city centre.â€
â€œThe concept of the pass system is absolutely a bad idea,â€ said Foster. â€œThe most damaging part of this proposal is the negative effect of foreign media reporting consistently and repeatedly that all coffee shops will be closed to tourists, and that the new law is in effect already or is definitively coming into effect.â€
â€œIt should be mentioned that the decision still has to be approved by the Raad van State, the Dutch Supreme Court to see if it violates article 1 of the Dutch constitution, which demands equal treatment for all people. There will also be many challenges in bringing the so called pass system from a concept into a reality.â€
â€œNUG Magazine readers should know that the coffee shop policy is always a point of discussion and has existed for over 30 years. Buying cannabis in a shop is the equivalent of buying a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine on the way home from work. In that same way, people may pass by a shop and buy a gram of cannabis on the way home. It is a normal part of the social and economic fabric of society in Amsterdam. The idea of taking the shops away will be discussed, but it would be extremely unlikely for the clock to turn back 30 years and end a successful system.â€
While some towns and cities within Holland may implement a foreign ban, in Amsterdam, this is not the case â€“ at least not yet. Book your trips to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol at your leisure. Dankuwell.
Amsterdam.info is the biggest and most complete Amsterdam information website, with 8 million visitors each year. It is an independent project run by a team of editors living locally in Amsterdam and providing its visitors with valuable information while serving attractive content within an easy to use structure.
The Bulldog Coffeeshop
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 220
1012 GJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Grey Area
Oude Leliestraat 2
1015 AW Amsterdam, Netherlands
Lijnbaansgracht 234 /A
1017 PH Amsterdam, Netherlands
1017 SG Amsterdam, Netherlands