Amsterdam to outlaw cannabis-smoking in red-light district streets

‘Historic’ clampdown on tourist excesses aims to make life more bearable for local residents

Smoking cannabis on the street in Amsterdam’s red light district will soon be illegal, the city council has announced, as part of a range of bylaws designed to deter tourist excesses and make life more bearable for despairing local people.

With more than 18 million visitors thronging its narrow 17th-century streets last year, Amsterdam’s residents have long complained that the busiest parts of the city centre, including De Wallen – the red light district – were becoming unlivable.

The council said in a statement that smoking joints in public in the inner city would be outlawed from mid-May, adding that it was prepared to consider extending the ban to the terraces of cannabis “coffeeshops” if necessary.

Sex workers will also have to shut up shop at 3am rather than 6am, while bars, cafes and restaurants must close at 2am rather than 3am on weekdays and 4am on Fridays and Saturdays, with no new customers allowed to enter after 1am.

Shops in the inner city, already barred from selling alcohol after 4pm from Thursday to Sunday, will have to remove bottles and cans from their windows or hide them behind screens, and a ban on drinking in public will be strictly enforced.

“Residents of the old town suffer a lot from mass tourism and alcohol and drug abuse in the street,” the council said. “Tourists also attract street drug dealers, who in turn cause crime and insecurity. Especially at night, the atmosphere can get grim.”

The Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool called the measures “historic”, noting that for decades Amsterdam had been known worldwide as the city “where everything was possible and everything was permissible – including smoking weed on the street”.

More recently, however, it added, “overtourism” had made the inner city unlivable. Foreign tourists and domestic visitors “make a lot of noise, urinate in the street, vomit, and treat the red light district as an amusement park, not a residential area”.

Almost the entire city council backs the new measures, Dutch media have reported, which will be open for consultation for a month and follow previous efforts to deter tourists “whose intention is to booze and misbehave, dressed up as a penis”.

City “hosts” have been employed to help manage revellers, especially at weekends,. A one-way system has been introduced, and parts of the red light district can be closed off completely. The city is still investigating a possible ban on stag and hen parties and the mayor wants to bar tourists from its cannabis coffeeshops.

A “stay away” policy scheduled to launch this spring is aimed at discouraging tourists who visit the city solely for drugs, alcohol and sex. “It will take a lot of patience,” one city councillor, Sofyan Mbarki, told Het Parool.

“We have presented a package with a vision and we must stick to it. We must all put our shoulders to the wheel together behind this vision. Whether you live here, work, do business or visit the city: everyone, ultimately wants a livable city.”


Jon Henley Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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