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Cannabis: Amsterdam mulls ban on foreign tourists at its 'coffee shops'

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The new proposals have been suggested by Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema.
The new proposals have been suggested by Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema.   -   Copyright  FILE - AP Photo/Peter Dejong
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Amsterdam is to discuss banning foreign tourists from entering coffee shops to legally buy marijuana.

The move has been proposed by the city's mayor, Femke Halsema, alongside police and the public prosecutor's office, to limit drug tourism in the Dutch capital.

Only residents of the Netherlands with a passport would be allowed to enter 166 coffee shops in Amsterdam, in line with the rest of the country.

"We have seen many groups of young people who only come to Amsterdam to go to the 'coffeeshops'," said Mayor Halsema in a letter to city councillors.

Almost a third of coffee shops in the Netherlands are in Amsterdam, which according to Halsema is a "major incentive for foreign tourists" who often "cause inconvenience to residents".

The proposal is one of several solutions favoured by Halsema, elected in 2018, to reduce overcrowding in the city's red-light district.

'Soft' drugs like hashish and marijuana are legal to buy in coffee shops in the Netherlands for personal consumption and these have remained open for takeaway service during coronavirus lockdown.

But recent studies have shown that drug tourism, especially from the United Kingdom, has increased sharply.

Joachim Helms is Spokesperson for the Association of Cannabis Retailers in Amsterdam. He says efforts to keep tourists out of the coffee shops will push the drug trade on to the streets.

"Banning the tourists from the coffee shops now will have a major negative side-effect. That is that the people who still want to smoke cannabis - and that's a lot of people - will go to buy it on the streets from street dealers."

In February, the Amsterdam mayor published a report showing that more than a third of foreign tourists would be less likely to visit Amsterdam again if they couldn't buy cannabis in coffee shops.

The study by the Dutch office for Research, Information and Statistics found that up to 44% of British tourists, 50% of German visitors, and 45% of French tourists would no longer visit Amsterdam if they could not enter coffee shops.

Research has also suggested that Amsterdam could halve the number of coffee shops from 166 to just 73 by 2025 to meet local demand.

"We would like tourists interested in the richness and beauty of cultural institutions to come here, and not tourists who only come here to walk around drunk and drugged," Halsema told Dutch television NOS.

The city parliament still has to approve the new plans.

To listen to the full interview with Joachim Helms, click on the media player above.