The War on Drugs: Cannabis-Selling Coffee Shop Ban for Tourists

From 1 January 2012, foreigners will no longer be able to purchase marijuana from coffee shops in three of the Netherland’s southern provinces. In January 2013, the remaining nine provinces, including Amsterdam coffee shops, will be forced to comply with the ban.

Is the famous Dutch social liberalism in decline, or is this simply a government street cleaning exercise to vaporise the tourist smog? With the disappearance of a legal trade worth £1.6 billion a year, we take a look at what the new coffee shop ban means for tourism and backpackers’ favourite city, Amsterdam. We want to know, are you for or against?

Smoking in the Netherlands

The ‘tolerance policy’ – the decriminalisation of the possession of less than 18 ounces of cannabis – was initiated in the Netherlands in 1976. The current “gedoogbeleid” or, personal use policy, allows coffee shops that do not sell alcoholic drinks to sell 5g of a strain of cannabis to any person, per day. The 2008 ban on smoking tobacco indoors means only pure cannabis can be smoked in these licensed shops.

The government believes it is now time to crack down on the “nuisance” of drug tourism and traffic congestion. One in 14 people arrive in the capital with the intention of visiting Amsterdam coffee shops but the tourist board claims that almost one quarter of overnight visitors end up traipsing in to these venues.

How will the ban work?

Licensed coffee shops will effectively operate as ‘member-only’ clubs for over 18s and citizens of the Netherlands. Each licensed shop will be allowed a maximum of 2,000 members who must carry a ‘dope card’.

The first areas to enforce the ban in January 2012 will be Limburg, North-Brabant and Zeeland, which are the regions most affected by drug tourism. The rest of the country, including Amsterdam coffee shops (of which there are around 220), will follow in January of the following year.

Other plans in the pipeline, including the proposal to close down coffee shops located within 350m of schools, suggest this is not just a measure to handle tourists but a move towards the changing nature of Dutch liberalism.

Are you for or against?

Is a clamp down careless during a recession? The legal cannabis market is estimated to be worth around £1.5 billion every year. After a month of serving only Dutch, Belgian and German customers, coffee shops in Maastricht experienced 16% fewer visitors according to DutchNews.NL while The Telegraph claims the ban could be responsible for an annual loss of £26 million and 345 jobs in Maastricht alone.

Will the new legislation encourage illegal street dealing? The Association of Licensed Maastricht Coffee Shops and the City of Amsterdam  has warned that cannabis users are being forced to criminally offend by smoking on the street.

Should locals be forced to put up with the negative effects of drug tourism? David Duclos, manager of Amsterdam’s Cannabis College Foundation, said they surveyed visitors in October in 2010 and discovered that 85% would not come to Amsterdam if the ban was put in place – some are calling it ‘tourist suicide. But tour operators have also suggested that the ban might attract a less liberal tourist.

And so it goes on…is the ban infringement on a person’s right to choose? Is this simply a case of a few irresponsible tourists spoiling it for everyone? Will prostitution be the next thing to go? Is there any difference between stoned Amsterdam tourist nuisances and the drunken tourists that descend on Sant Antoni in Ibiza every summer?

Tell us your thoughts below…

Thanks to Arthur40A and liber for the images off Flickr! Please note, all images were suitable for use at the time of publication according to the Creative Commons License

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