FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Are Amsterdam’s "Open City" Days Numbered?

Amsterdam, city of canals, cafes and cannabis-selling “coffee shops”, may not be home to the British tourist’s lost weekend for much longer.

The Dutch government plans to make the shops private clubs with membership only open to city residents aged 18+, effectively banning tourists.

The policy is currently under constitutional review and should be decided for good (or bad, depending on your point of view) in the next few months.

Amsterdam’s tourist board, ATCB, is up in arms about the challenge to its “famous Spirit of Freedom”, while researchers at the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions are investigating the economic impact of the “wietpas” (weed pass). ATCB research suggests that one in 14 people come to the capital city for its 223 coffeeshops, but almost a quarter of overnight visitors end up wiling away a few hours in one. Having lived in the Netherlands for 18 months, in both the canal belt and trendy Jordaan, this comes as no surprise to me.

A head frequently pops out of a group of noisy tourists to ask me and my baby: “Where’s the nearest coffee shop?” in a fine Glaswegian, Mancunian or Surrey accent. Tired of the request, I now misdirect them into the sea a few streets north.

Contrary to popular belief, soft drugs are illegal in the Netherlands. There is a policy of tolerance for personal use ? “gedoogbeleid” ? and under this, the coffee shops are allowed to sell exotically named strains of cannabis under strict conditions, including a limit of 5g per person, per day. Confusingly, there’s now a ban on smoking tobacco indoors, so only pure cannabis can be smoked in the shops, which serve non-alcoholic drinks (our recent British guests found a simple solution: get a takeaway and enjoy a memorably lost weekend rolling joints by a canal instead).

So, this might well be the last summer for tourists interested in a 50 quid getaway to a Dutch land of mellow escape. On top of the wietpas plans, there are other proposals to close down coffee shops located within 350 meters of schools, which local newspaper NRC Handelsblad reckoned would mean the death of 187 Amsterdam establishments and six in 10 coffee shops.
So should you be surprised that the first home of legal gay marriage and a famously liberal attitude may not be so forgiving any more? Actually, the British reputation of Amsterdam as home to flagrant sex, drugs and general permissiveness is rather out of kilter with the more conservative reality. This is a place where, yes, you can be gay and married or straight and married… but as one town hall official told me, finger-waggingly, you had better be married. Sex and drugs are licensed, providing tax income and a measure of control, but then a favourite Dutch proverb is: “Just be normal ? that’s crazy enough.”

Meanwhile, the anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party won 1.5 million votes in last year’s general election to become the third largest party in the Dutch House of Representatives.

Some people are still fighting, however. Machteld Ligtvoet, manager of communication at the ATCB, explains: “Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board agrees with the mayor of Amsterdam that we should not implement a so-called ‘weed card’. We believe it is a solution for a problem that Amsterdam does not experience [and]? implies an act of discrimination towards foreigners. Furthermore, we fear that soft drugs will be sold on the street again, leading to more crime and dangerous situations. ATCB now never actively promotes soft drugs or coffee shops, but we consider the availability of soft drugs part of our famous Spirit of Freedom. And that is what people like about our city ? you can be yourself in Amsterdam.”

Unsurprisingly, cannabis experts are with them. David Duclos, manager of Amsterdam’s Cannabis College Foundation, said: “The central bureau for statistics has stated that tourism could suffer by up to 20 per cent. And if you take cannabis out of the coffeeshops, there’s only one place to go: back on the streets, so the regulation of the quality and safety would be greatly diminished.”

His own organisation, recognizing its inevitable bias, surveyed its visitors last October and found 85 per cent wouldn’t come to Amsterdam if the residents’ permit went ahead.

Meanwhile, some tour operators have said the scheme would have a negative impact on the marketability of the Dutch capital and the cautious Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions adds: “It is possible that a decision to introduce the Weed Card will reduce the number of foreign tourists who choose Amsterdam or the Netherlands as a destination for a stay. But a less liberal policy might also attract new tourists.”

There’s a coffee shop just 50 meters away from my front door, but I will not be going anywhere near it.

And other long-time Dutch residents, such as writer Rodney Bolt ? whose forthcoming series of crime novels with prominent criminal lawyer Britta Boehler will reveal even murkier sides of the city ? confesses that relief from British drug tourists might be quite nice.

“Most Amsterdammers will breathe a sigh of relief that they can reclaim weekends from roving, tribal bands of stag (and hen) parties, bizarrely-dressed, stoned and rowdy,” he confesses.

 

More articles by:
June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail