Amsterdam Is Changing Their Weed Laws, why?

Amsterdam is legendary for its liberal and sensible laws relating to cannabis consumption. However, things are changing, and the many who visit Holland’s capital (and most populist) city for a relaxing smoke need to understand what these new changes involve.

With that in mind, let’s take a brief look at the city’s “coffeeshop” history and culture. From there we will explain what the new laws entail and why the capital’s mayor and her colleagues in office have seen the need to make these changes. Just as a heads up: Any weed lover visiting Amsterdam from the middle of May 2023 onwards needs to be aware of these new bylaws and what is, and what is not allowed…

Blunts and Flavored Papers

Back in the 1980s, when you wanted to smoke weed, it was always via joints, bongs, or other homemade water-based smoking devices, pipes, and contraptions. There weren’t many brands of rolling papers at the time, and there were no blunts or flavored papers whatsoever. We managed to get by, but in the rapidly changing commercial cannabis market of today, the choice of blunts and flavored papers is simply astounding.

weed cafe amsterdam

Where did it all Start?

Contrary to popular belief, Holland has never entirely legalized cannabis. The weed laws are a bit sketchy and always have been. However, under certain conditions, it is tolerated by the country’s government. Their ‘Gedoogbeleid’ or ‘Tolerance Policy’ means the law is not enforced when it comes to retail sales of small quantities of cannabis for personal use in cannabis cafes. These cafes are more commonly referred to as coffeeshops.

Wind back to 1972 when “Mellow Yellow” was the first coffeeshop to open in Amsterdam. Since then the coffeeshop culture has steadily grown along with a local coffeeshop policy aimed at sensible ‘policing’.

Its goal is to limit public nuisance and keep the sector relatively small, manageable, and transparent. It also attempts to prevent criminal involvement in the sector, and above all does its best to discourage young people from cannabis use.

In terms of coffeeshop numbers, the municipality of Amsterdam’s determination to keep the sector small and orderly has seen a reduction from 350 shops in 1999 to 165 in 2017.

However, that should not phase anyone visiting Amsterdam for the first time. You can rest assured that there are still more inviting coffeeshops available to visit than you will ever get around in one trip.

Weed availability is wide, varied, and of excellent quality. You can choose to purchase and roll yourself, buy pre-rolled spliffs, or go for the selection of edibles available (do try the space cake!) along with a variety of shakes to blow your mind.

New Weed Laws – What They are and the Reasoning Behind Them

As mentioned, new laws come into play in mid-May 2023. These are being implemented by the city’s council and have been slated as an initiative that comes from Femke Halsema, Amsterdam’s first female mayor.

The major part of the bylaw to affect cannabis smokers is that the smoking of marijuana outdoors will be banned.

A major factor in this decision is the long-held complaints of residents living in the city. They have long claimed that this practice along with other tourist-fueled nightlife escapades has made the city unlivable.

We will touch on some of the other measures relating to sex work and alcohol licensing later in the piece but first, let’s dig deeper on the weed angle.

Massive Weed Tourism Numbers

Amsterdam received around 18 million visitors in 2022. These visitors quite naturally flock to its narrow 17th-century streets which include the busiest parts of the city center known as ‘De Wallen’ or as many visitors know it, The Red Light District. It is in this district where the vast majority of coffeeshops are located.

The huge number of visitors to this area is causing overcrowding and public nuisance and hence the council’s declaration that smoking joints in public in the inner city will be outlawed and become a solid part of their weed laws hoing forward. As a cautionary note, the statement also said that if necessary the ban could be extended to coffeeshop terraces.

Residents claim that the old town which includes the De Wallen district has suffered for far too long from mass tourism as well as alcohol and drug abuse. The council also feels that tourists attract street drug dealers. In turn, these unsavory characters cause crime and insecurity. That is especially the case at night when the atmosphere can get grim.

To close off on the reasons behind the smoking weed in public ban and new weed laws it is claimed that foreign as well as domestic visitors make a lot of noise late at night and into the early morning. Furthermore, they urinate and vomit in the street, and treat the Red Light District as an amusement park rather than the residential area it really is.

New Sex and Alcohol Bylaws are Also Included

While not related to coffeeshops, weed smoking and the new weed laws there are also bylaw changes affecting the other two major ‘activities’ in the Red Light District. Here’s a quick lowdown on the major points just so you know where you stand:

Already in place are city “hosts” who are now employed to help manage revelers. These workers are particularly in force during weekends. A one-way system is already in place and should the authorities deem it necessary, they have the power to close off sections of the red-light district completely.

Other possible initiatives being considered by the City council include a possible ban on stag and hen parties and the mayor wants to ban tourists from its cannabis coffeeshops. As will be seen below, this could have some very negative effects on the city’s income.

Some visitors quite rightly feel this is taking regimentation a little too far. It is also a fact that with the continuing deregulation of cannabis use across the globe weed smokers have wider choices. Many are beginning to feel that their smoking enjoyment will be better served in other cities and countries. Ones that offer a more relaxed cannabis experience.

New By-Laws for Sex Workers

Getting back to sex workers and entertainment venues the new bylaws will now mean that sex workers must close their doors (or windows actually!) at 03.00hrs rather than 06.00hrs.

As for bars, cafes, and restaurants. These will now have to close at 02.00hrs rather than 03.00hrs on Sundays to Thursdays and 04.00hrs on Fridays and Saturdays. It should also be noted that no new customers will be allowed to enter these establishments after 1am.

It is also the case that inner city shops which are already barred from selling alcohol after 16.00hrs from Thursday to Sunday will now be forced to remove all alcoholic bottles and cans from their windows or hide them behind screens. On top of this, the existing ban on drinking in public will be more strictly enforced.

What Effect will These new Laws Have?

No one has a crystal ball so only time will tell as to what effect the new weed laws will have. On the one hand, it is hoped the streets will be safer. On the other hand, those businesses in the city center could well suffer from a downturn in tourist visits due to these stricter bylaws.

Of course, it is sure to please residents of the old town. However, in terms of going too far, a note of caution must be sounded. Mayor Halsema has held her position since July 2018 and along with city councilors has gradually introduced more restrictive measures relating to the old town. 

As mentioned earlier, it has even been mooted that there could be a ban on tourists being allowed to visit Amsterdam’s world-famous coffeeshops. Should that ever occur it is highly likely that would-be visitors may find this once very easy going city center district not as easy going as they like. If that is the case this would surely affect tourist numbers and the city’s overall income.

Indeed, a variety of studies carried out have shown that if such a ban is ever enforced the result would lead to a sharp decline in visitors.

For the time being, weed smokers will continue to find Amsterdam a fantastic city to visit. The wide variety, choice, and quality of available cannabis strains that can be smoked in a very relaxing atmosphere are tempting, to say the least.

You can then add to this an excellent selection of edibles, shakes, and smoking gear to take home as souvenirs. With those factors in mind Amsterdam remains a very worthy place to visit should you be tripping around Europe regardless of the new weed laws.

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