War on Drugs, but Tourist Drugs Only?
The Netherlands is apparently going through a 1920s-style prohibition phase with their coffee shops. While coffee shops in The States spur up imagery of over-sized cups, sugar drowned beverages, and caloric mini pastries, coffee shops in Holland are no more than a euphemistic effort to sell high quality narcotics. Let’s break down the various coffee lingo in the Netherlands:
1.) Coffee Shop – a licensed seller of cannabis products including – but not limited to – weed, hash, and space cakes
2.) Coffee House (koffiehuis) – establishment that sells coffee and light meals
3.) Café – casual restaurant and/or bar
The Netherlands does have a drug policy – albeit, a relaxed one – that allows for these sales to take place. Thinking of having a space cake or visiting a smoke-filled coffee house on your next Amsterdam visit? Think again because things are apparently beginning to crack down. Tourists sometimes forget that coffee houses can be found all over the country, but they are most famous in Amsterdam. This future ban, however, will eventually take effect all over Holland.
The crackdown on drugs – and the reassessment of Amsterdam’s image – first began when coffee shops were no longer allowed to sell alcohol back in 2007. Then they began increasing the distance between coffee shops and schools. This past year, the Dutch introduced a new set of anti-drug laws that will force foreigners away from coffee shops by only allowing customers who sign up for a year long membership – essentially a dope pass – to be admitted. Although this will not be in full effect until 2013, there are already 2 pilot coffee shops that will begin rolling out this new ban this Spring.
Technically, you can still have a friend who has one of these memberships to purchase what you need for you and take it back to your local hostel for a smoke, but that completely takes out the novelty of it all. There are over 700 licensed coffee shops in the Netherlands, and over 200 of those are in Amsterdam. People flock to Amsterdam for a variety of reasons, but for many, this includes the novelty of ordering from a menu filled with narcotics to use them legally (only in coffee shops, smoking marijuana in public is still very much frowned upon). Apparently the millions of dollars tourists pump into the city is not seen as a necessity compared to the negative image the Dutch associate with it.
The Dutch believe the new regulations ‘will put an end to the nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drugs trafficking’, but they also must recognize this will hurt their economy. This just might be tourism suicide. Although the Netherlands is known for many great things including beautiful canals, windmills, and wooden clogs, there is no denying that drugs have played a key part in their image.
Richard and I went to Amsterdam 2 years ago, and many did say the scene has greatly changed over the years. There are less girls in windows and more art. Coffee shops are constantly closing. Before we arrived, they also forbid the selling of mushrooms, with a small loophole. The law stated that coffee shops could continue to sell the quantities they still had in possession but were forbidden to purchase any more. How is that trackable? Your guess is as good as mine. This eventually might be a similar situation with coffee houses, but it is looking ever more likely tourists will not be able to simply walk into a coffee shop and make an order in the near future.
Will this affect future tourism? Will this simply see a rise in the black market and modern speakeasies? Some argue they will keep pushing back the regulations until they loosen up. This could be a temporary prohibition stage for Holland or it could actually be a permanent effort to paint the country in a different light.
How badly would this affect tourism in Amsterdam or the rest of the country? What do you think? There’s tons of things people want to do and see other than peruse the red light district and get intoxicated, right?