FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 19, 2019
Matthew Stevenson
Requiem for a Lightweight: the Mayor Pete Factor
Kenneth Surin
In China Again
Stephen Cooper
Abolishing the Death Penalty Requires Morality
George Ochenski
The DNC Can’t Be Allowed to Ignore the Climate Crisis
John W. Whitehead
The Omnipresent Surveillance State
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
Guaidó’s Star Fades as His Envoys to Colombia Allegedly Commit Fraud With Humanitarian Funds for Venezuela
Dave Lindorff
What About Venezuela’s Hacked Power Grid?
Howard Lisnoff
Try Not to Look Away
Binoy Kampmark
Matters of Water: Dubious Approvals and the Adani Carmichael Mine
Karl Grossman
The Battle to Stop the Shoreham Nuclear Plant, Revisited
Kani Xulam
Farting in a Turkish Mosque
Dean Baker
New Manufacturing Jobs are Not Union Jobs
Elizabeth Keyes
“I Can’t Believe Alcohol Is Stronger Than Love”
June 18, 2019
John McMurtry
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Evidence About Iran is “Dodgy” at Best
Yoav Litvin
Catch 2020 – Trump’s Authoritarian Endgame
Thomas Knapp
Opposition Research: It’s Not Trump’s Fault That Politics is a “Dirty” Game
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Sanctions: Economic Sabotage that is Deadly, Illegal and Ineffective
Gary Leupp
Marx and Walking Zen
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Color Revolution In Hong Kong: USA Vs. China
Howard Lisnoff
The False Prophets Cometh
Michael T. Klare
Bolton Wants to Fight Iran, But the Pentagon Has Its Sights on China
Steve Early
The Global Movement Against Gentrification
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Journal Doesn’t Like Rent Control
Tom Engelhardt
If Trump’s the Symptom, Then What’s the Disease?
June 17, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence
Linn Washington Jr.
Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran
Geoff Dutton
Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited
Nick Licata
Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics
John Feffer
Democracy Faces a Global Crisis
Louisa Willcox
Revamping Grizzly Bear Recovery
Stephen Cooper
“Wheel! Of! Fortune!” (A Vegas Story)
Daniel Warner
Let Us Laugh Together, On Principle
Brian Cloughley
Trump Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail