When international visitors are eventually able to return to the canals that crisscross the medieval streets of Amsterdam, they may find one of the Dutch capital’s famous tourist attractions off limits.
Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema wants to ban foreign tourists from cannabis cafes to tackle anti-social behaviour and push the city upmarket.
Owners of Amsterdam’s fabled coffee shops are pushing back.
They have told the BBC that if tourists are banned from regulated establishments, they will be pushed into the hands of ruthless drug gangsters on the streets.
‘They let go of all discipline’
Amsterdam is famous for an array of things, including its thriving nightlife – red light district, cannabis cafes and bars – attracting 20 million tourists per year.
Like the rest of the Netherlands, the capital is currently in lockdown.
Some of its 850,000 residents would prefer its post-Covid life to resemble its current state, rather than return to what it was.
Bernadette de Wit wants to get rid of what she calls “low-value tourists”, including young British women “dressed up as pink penises – they let go of all discipline”.
Bernadette wobbles around to demonstrate how some visitors act from late morning onwards, urinating in the street and vomiting in gardens
The mayor has a plan.
Cutting off the lifeblood of cannabis tourism, she believes, will deter that type of visitor and reduce the kind of conduct often associated with them.
Most of the Netherlands already requires visitors to coffee shops to show proof of residence, but the rule is not enforced in the capital.
The council has already tried other methods to reduce the pressure that comes with “over-tourism”. Airbnb-style holiday rentals were recently banned from the historic centre, and the future of the red light district is under discussion with proposals to create a sex zone on the outskirts instead.
Coffee shops are the latest pleasure-seekers’ pursuit to be targeted.
Inside Joachim Helms’ Greenhouse cafe, the walls are resplendent with photos of him hugging celebrity clientele, from Rihanna to Richard Branson, Snoop Dogg and Miley Cyrus.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” the owner told me. “People who come to smoke weed aren’t the ones causing the disturbance.”