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Law and JusticeNetherlands

Amsterdam bans public cannabis smoking in red-light district

February 10, 2023

The city's mayor is hoping to curb crime by banning smoking marijuana outdoors. Residents have complained that the tourist-fueled nightlife has made the city unlivable.

A view of Amsterdam's famous red-light district
Image: Chun Ju Wu/Zoonar/picture alliance

The Dutch capital, famed for its liberal laws on drug use and sex work, has banned the smoking of cannabis on the streets of its red-light district, city authorities said on Friday.

The ban, which will come into effect in mid-May, is seeking to tackle crime and anti-social behavior to improve the quality of life for the area's residents.

Amsterdam is a popular tourist hotspot and its marijuana cafes as well as its brothels and strip clubs draw in millions of visitors every year.

"Residents of the old town suffer a lot from mass tourism and alcohol and drug abuse in the streets", the city said in a statement.

"Tourists also attract street dealers, who in turn cause crime and insecurity," it added.

Mayor on a mission

The move, hailed as a "historic intervention" by Dutch newspaper Het Parool, is part of a larger campaign to crack down on the city's "huge anti-social behavior" issues.

The initiative comes from Amsterdam's first female mayor, Femke Halsema, who has set out to make the city more livable for its residents.

European cities blighted by overtourism

Cities like Amsterdam and Rome boast fantastic architecture and culture, but attract so many tourists that locals are suffering. Here's a look at some of the European cities experiencing overtourism.

Image: Grgo Jelavic/PIXSELL/picture alliance


Venice is one of the most scenic cities in Europe. Unfortunately, this beauty has cost it dearly, as millions of tourists flood into the city every year, crowding out residents. In a bid to ease the pressure, city authorities have considered an entry fee for day-trippers, many of whom disembark from massive cruise ships. Venice has seen regular anti-tourist protests in recent years.

Image: Vandeville Eric/abaca/picture alliance


Florence is another city many tourists find hard to resist thanks to its beautiful Renaissance architecture and world-class museums. The downside, however, is that visitors will struggle to come across locals, as much of the inner city is overrun by tourists. Florentine authorities and residents are desperate to fight overtourism.

Image: Daniel Kalker/picture alliance


It's rare to have Rome's Spanish Steps (pictured), or any other famous landmark, to yourself. The Italian capital's many historical and cultural attractions make it a veritable tourist magnet — in 2019, Rome recorded some 26 million overnight stays. Authorities have sought to better manage the masses by restricting access to the Trevi Fountain and not allowing people to sit on the Spanish Steps.

Image: Patrizia Cortellessa/Pacific Press/picture alliance


Whether sampling famous Czech beer, strolling across Charles Bridge (pictured) or simply absorbing its great atmosphere, the Czech capital offers plenty to see and do. Unfortunately, the city of 1.3 million people received some 7 to 8 million annual tourists per year before the pandemic. Although recent visitor figures are lower due to COVID-19, many locals are tired of the masses.

Image: Emin Sansar/AA/picture alliance


Dubrovnik has become a household name ever since it featured in the television series "Game of Thrones." Its picturesque UNESCO-listed old town is certainly special. Yet over the years, visitor numbers have overwhelmed the small town, rising steeply from 500,000 people in 2011 to 1.5 million in 2019. Authorities have considered restricting access to the historic center.

Image: Grgo Jelavic/PIXSELL/picture alliance


Amsterdam has been plagued by overtourism for years, owing to its reputation as a heaven for hedonists. Many locals are exasperated and feel their quality of life is being diminished by hordes of tourists clogging the city's streets. In response, the city began banning the consumption of alcohol in certain areas and plans to do the same with cannabis. Some 18 million tourists are expected in 2023.

Image: Jochen Tack/picture alliance


In 2019, Barcelona received a record 12 million visitors, even though its population is just 1.6 million people. Although the COVID-19 pandemic led to a considerable drop in visitor numbers, many are fed up with mass tourism and its impact on the urban fabric. In 2022, the city introduced restrictions on guided tours of central Barcelona. A cap on inner-city accommodations also exists.

Image: Daniel Kalker/picture alliance


Before the pandemic, somewhere between 4 to 6 million tourists descended on Lisbon every year. It's a staggering figure, given that Portugal's capital is home to just half a million people. Mass tourism exerts tremendous pressure on the housing sector, with scores of apartments converted into holiday rentals and low-wage earners forced out of popular districts like the Alfama neighborhood.

Image: Hugo Amaral/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/picture aliance
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Other measures have also been introduced, such as restricting drinking hours and enforcing earlier closing times for cafes, bars, restaurants and brothels.

The ban on the public smoking of cannabis will be limited to the canal-lined streets that host the city's sex shops and strip clubs.

But if the intended effects are not achieved, the city has said it may extend the rule to the terraces of marijuana cafes too.

Tourism industry hangs in the balance

According to Dutch law, consuming cannabis is technically illegal but possession of anything under 5 grams (0.18 ounces) was decriminalized in 1975.

In principle, only Dutch residents are allowed to purchase cannabis in so-called "coffee shops," but there is an exception for shops in Amsterdam.

There are 570 shops across the country — euphemistically called coffee shops — of which 166 are in Amsterdam, according to Health Ministry and city data.

Halsema has previously said she wants to encourage tourism to Amsterdam for other reasons than sex and drugs, but studies have shown that banning tourists from marijuana cafes would lead to a sharp decline in visitors.

Cocaine and the power of the Dutch drugs mafia


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ab/jcg (AFP, Reuters)

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