Amsterdam: Will the new “Weed Pass” leave tourists (not) high and dry?

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Do you have a "weed pass"? Photo: Sri the Quack
Do you have a "weed pass"? Photo: Sri the Quack

Throughout history the Dutch have been known for being good at business. In Amsterdam, tolerance is essential for a lucrative economy. The cannabis industry is a perfect example: One quarter of all tourists in Amsterdam visit a coffeeshop during their visit.

However, a new law making marijuana use off-limits to tourists is slated to change all of that when it goes into effect this month (May 2012). Why would the business-savvy Dutch do such a thing?

In a country where less that ten percent of locals even admit to smoking marijuana, it’s a backwards move for the Dutch capital. That’s why passing and enforcing the law has been slow moving, but regardless, here’s the skinny:

What is this law all about?

The new law to make coffeeshops in the Netherlands for “locals only” happened not because of unruly, high tourists in Amsterdam, but because of cross-border drug tourism.

Cities in the south (like Maastricht) experience many foreigners in neighboring countries (like Germany and Belgium) driving across the border, buying out a coffeeshop’s stock, and then driving back home. The European Court of Justice issued this law after a coffeeshop owner complained that these acts had temporarily closed down his business — he just couldn’t keep up his supply.

So where tourists in Amsterdam go to coffeeshops for the full experience, others near the Dutch border walk in, buy as much as possible, and walk out. This new law is intended to stop this behavior. By making coffeeshops for residents only, business owners — and the government in general — can regulate the market more effectively.

No, marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands. It’s decriminalized, which means buying and selling small amounts is tolerated. Stockpiling large quantities isn’t.

The “Weed Pass”

The law makes sense, but it spells trouble for tourists and the coffeeshop owners. The law will force coffeeshops to become coffeeshop “clubs” — and members who want to join must fill out a form and prove residency within the country.

The coffeeshop will maintain a membership list, and each time a member enters the shop they’ll have to show legal identification. This is called the Weed Pass Policy, although no passes are given out because of possible forgeries. And each coffeeshop can have no more than 2,000 members.

Sounds like a pain? It is, and the law is being met with resistance. Coffeeshop owners are afraid to lose business–a very obvious concern. There are politicians challenging the law, however as of yet they have been unsuccessful.

Amsterdam, in particular, fears it’s tourism industry will take a hit. And it certainly will.

Any Hope?

Luckily there are some pros to this con. First, the law will first go into effect in the southern part of the country, and Amsterdam, located in the north, won’t need to comply until late 2012.

Secondly, coffeeshop owners across the country have been given extra time to make necessary changes. This can also mean extra time to challenge the law, and extra time to rework the law into something more acceptable for everyone.

Finally, the Dutch are extremely clever with finding loopholes and exceptions to any rule. For example, psychedelic mushrooms were outlawed, but smart shops still sell truffles. And although smoking was banned from indoor cafes, bars still pass out ashtrays at night.

Criticism that the law was made too quickly has already sprouted concern across the country. However, the policy has been passed and is currently in effect for 2012. It’s now just a matter of enforcing it.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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