This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Amsterdam’s residents have spent the past two years acclimatising to a city largely devoid of the usual tourist crowds who arrive ready to hotfoot it to one of the Dutch capital’s infamous coffeeshops. The pandemic-enforced disappearance of stoned visitors was both liberating and slightly morose. After all, what is central Amsterdam without red-eyed holidaymakers stumbling around canals in cannabis-leaf print beanies?
Thankfully for weed-inclined tourists and coffeeshop owners, the lifting of travel restrictions means that the sector is up and running again. Or it is for now, at least.
Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema, elected in 2018 as the green left candidate, has had enough of the anti-social behaviour that comes with drug tourism. In January 2021, she formally proposed plans that would see tourists banned from buying marijuana in any of the 167 coffeeshops currently permitted to sell the drug. Going forward, only locals would have access to these spaces.
Halsema maintains that closing the cafes to tourists would make Amsterdam a safer, more liveable city for its 900,000 or so residents. Not everyone is convinced by the plans: Some city council members have raised concerns that banning tourists from legally purchasing weed would only drive them to street dealers. Unsurprisingly, the proposal has proved incredibly unpopular with coffeeshops owners and their staff.
In 2019, shortly after Halsema mentioned her proposal publicly for the first time, 100 tourists aged between 18-35 took part in a survey that found 34 percent would be likely to visit Amsterdam less often if coffeeshops were forced to close their doors to tourists.
A few years and a pandemic later, what do tourists make of the mayor’s plans? To find out, I spent an afternoon at Prix D’Ami, the first cannabis cafe a tourist ambling out of Amsterdam Central Station might come across. For reasons of privacy, the stoners I spoke to asked to keep their surnames secret.
‘If [the mayor’s plans] go through, I won’t be back again’
Prohibiting tourists from using dispensaries doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. It’ll become just like it is in England. Buying weed means meeting up with a sleazy drug dealer somewhere. That is pretty scary – especially for women.
I get that the city wants to regulate the amount of people who visit to buy drugs, and I think the mayor’s plans might be effective. If they go through, I won’t be back again. There are only two things I want to do when I’m in Amsterdam: visit coffeeshops and spend some time at the Rembrandt Museum. The former wouldn’t be possible anymore and I’ve done the latter a few times already. There wouldn’t be much left for me. – Alice, 25, UK
‘I’ve accomplished a lot thanks to cannabis’
I smoke a lot of weed because I feel it is good for my mental health. Being stoned helps me deal with society – and myself. I’ve accomplished a lot thanks to cannabis: I’ve fixed financial problems, worked on my health, and even helped improve my family’s health, too. I love smoking weed but ultimately I’m in here for the friendly people of Amsterdam. Even if I was barred from the coffeeshops, I’d still come. – Ralph, 29, India
‘I just think [weed] is fun’
I fucking love smoking weed so I think Amsterdam is amazing. Smoking isn’t about escapism for me – I just think it is fun. I arrived here three days ago and went straight to a coffeeshop. I must have smoked at least 14 grams since. If the mayor’s proposal is accepted, I don’t think I’d come back to Amsterdam. London already has museums, fun people, and street dealers. – Anna, 21, UK
‘I love weed’
It’s very hard to say something meaningful, because I’m incredibly stoned. But I’ll try: I love weed. If I’m no longer allowed in Amsterdam’s cafes, I’ll start vacationing in other Dutch towns. Like Utrecht, for instance. I don’t know what it’s like over there, but I like the name Utrecht. I’d also go to a farming village, where it’s deserted. I don’t mind the fact that it has no coffeeshops. I’ll just chill out in nature. As you might be able to tell by my name, I love doing that. Ocean isn’t just a name: It is who I am. – Ocean, 20, Israel
‘I wouldn’t exactly cry, but I would feel discriminated against’
I love Amsterdam, mostly for the canals and the coffeeshops, so I tend to visit the ones that have a canal view. When I’m home, I smoke about a gram of weed a day, but here it is more like four. Even so, I don’t really feel it because I’ve built up a high weed tolerance at this point.
If a cafe wasn’t allowed to serve me, I wouldn’t exactly cry, but I would feel discriminated against. I’d stop visiting the city, as would many other tourists I imagine. That’s why I don’t think it is a particularly smart idea. Coffeeshops are big tourists attractions; they make a lot of money. – Melita, 20, UK
‘Ideally, I’d be stoned for ever’
Technically, I’m in Amsterdam to go to a techno party, but I’ve actually spent day and night at coffeeshops. I love being stoned. Ideally, I’d be stoned for ever. If I was banned from the premises for being a tourist, I’d just ask Dutch people on the street to pop in and buy weed for me. I’m sure there are plenty of people willing to do that if you pay them a little. – Gal, 23, Israel
‘Smoking weed calms me down’
I’m mostly here because of the coffeeshops. Smoking inside a dispensary like this feels safe. At home in the UK, I’m forced to go to a dealer and I don’t like that. You have to go to scary places to meet up with scary people. You run the risk of getting scammed, buying bad stuff, or worst case scenario, even getting arrested by the police.
Weed is important to me, because it helps me deal with my mental health issues. I’m autistic, which causes a lot of stress and anxiety. Smoking weed calms me down. I also have a hard time being in social situations and I hardly have friends. But talking to people gets easier after I smoke a joint. That said, I’d still come to Amsterdam even if the cafes were off limits. It’d be a bit of a bummer though: Nothing beats going back and forth between the coffeeshops and city’s museums. – Chloe, 21, UK