Amsterdam's red light district has been a haven for tourists seeking liberation from the rules and regulations of their mundane lives. However, the residents of this vibrant district are keen to tone down the wild atmosphere. The city council recently announced that cannabis use would be prohibited on the streets of the red light district, citing the disruptive and dreary ambiance that often lingers in the area during the night. This new regulation is set to be enforced from mid-May.
According to the council's statement on Thursday, the inhabitants of the old town are facing the brunt of excessive tourism, alcohol, and drug misuse in public places. This unfavorable environment also attracts illegal street vendors, increasing crime rates and a general sense of insecurity. The situation worsens during the night when intoxicated individuals loiter around for extended periods, causing sleep disturbances to the residents. Ultimately, this renders the neighborhood inhabitable and unsafe for the locals.
The council added that implementing a cannabis smoking prohibition on the streets would diminish the distress faced by the residents. Furthermore, they are exploring the possibility of forbidding the pick-up of soft drugs during specific hours. If the nuisance persists, the council will contemplate a potential smoking ban on the terraces of coffee shops. As reported by Reuters, this move is part of Amsterdam's first female mayor, Femke Halsema, to create a more comfortable neighborhood for the locals.
CNN reports that there have been several efforts in recent years to minimize the negative consequences of over-tourism and the influx of problematic tourists and transform the red light district's image. For instance, the authorities have introduced a law that forbids guided tours from passing through sex workers' windows. Since she was appointed the mayor of Amsterdam in 2018, Halsema has been committed to overhauling the city's red light district.
As per CNN's report, in 2019, Halsema proposed four alternatives to ensure the well-being of sex workers, curb criminal activities, and limit the influence of tourism in De Wallen, Amsterdam's red-light district. The other options were concealing sex workers behind closed curtains to prevent street view, reducing the number of window-style rooms, relocating brothels to other areas in Amsterdam, and establishing a sex worker "hotel."
Quoting the statement by the mayor's office, CNN reported that for many tourists, the sex workers in the red-light district have turned into a mere sightseeing spectacle. However, this often leads to disorderly conduct and a lack of regard for the sex workers' dignity and profession, which can be seen through the windows.
Aside from the recently announced smoking ban, the Amsterdam city council has also revealed that one of the measures that have already been finalized is to compel all catering and sex establishments with a catering license to shut down their operations by 02:00 on Fridays and Saturdays. This differs from the current closing times of 3 or 4 a.m.
The council explained that prostitution-related businesses can function until 3 a.m., whereas they are currently permitted to operate until 6 a.m. Furthermore, to promote better crowd management, fresh visitors will only be allowed to enter the premises after 1 a.m. They are also considering shutting down terraces at 1 a.m. during the summer months, as opposed to 2 a.m. in the present situation. The council also stated that the sale of alcohol by liquor stores, shops, and cafeterias will continue to be banned "from Thursday to Sunday starting at 4 p.m."
Based on CNN's report, the De Wallen area, commonly known as the red-light district, is the foundation of approximately 10% to 15% of Amsterdam's tourism industry.
Cannabis legalization in Amsterdam is a unique case, where it is allowed to possess and use small amounts of marijuana, but cultivation and distribution remain illegal. The Netherlands has adopted a pragmatic approach to drug policy, and Amsterdam is world-renowned for its relaxed cannabis laws.
In 1976, the Dutch government introduced a policy of tolerance towards cannabis, which allowed coffee shops to sell small amounts of marijuana to customers. This policy aimed to separate the soft drug market from the hard drug market and reduce the harms associated with drug use. Since then, Amsterdam has become a popular destination for cannabis tourism, attracting millions of visitors annually.
Under Dutch law, it is legal to possess up to 5 grams of cannabis for personal use. Coffee shops are licensed to sell up to 5 grams per customer per day and are allowed to stock up to 500 grams of marijuana at any given time. However, selling other drugs, such as cocaine and ecstasy, remains strictly prohibited.
Coffee shops must follow strict regulations, such as not selling to minors, not advertising, and not causing a public nuisance. They are also subject to regular inspections by the authorities. However, despite these regulations, the presence of coffee shops in Amsterdam has attracted criticism from some quarters.
Critics argue that cannabis tourism contributes to social problems such as drug addiction, petty crime, and public disorder. They also claim that the tolerance policy has led to increased drug use among young people. Supporters of the policy argue that it has reduced the harms associated with drug use, such as the spread of diseases like HIV, and has provided a source of revenue for the government.
In recent years, the Dutch government has moved towards a stricter approach to drug policy. In 2012, the government introduced a policy that banned non-residents from buying cannabis in coffee shops in the southern provinces of the Netherlands. This policy was later extended to other provinces, including Amsterdam. The government argued that the policy was necessary to reduce drug tourism and the associated problems.
Despite the policy changes, cannabis remains a widely used drug in the Netherlands. The debate over drug policy and cannabis legalization continues, with arguments on both sides. However, for now, Amsterdam remains one of the few places where cannabis use is largely tolerated.
Amsterdam's city council has made the red-light district more livable for the residents by imposing a smoking ban and reducing the opening hours of catering and sex establishments. The council's decisions are part of a campaign led by the city's first female mayor to address the problems associated with mass tourism and crime in the area. While the red-light district remains a popular destination for visitors, these new regulations aim to make it more respectful and safer for all.