Amsterdam has special meaning to stoners. Though its role as marijuana Mecca is changing as other places normalize weed, Amsterdam symbolizes freedom. The name itself conjures images of tourists huddled at wooden tables in dark coffee shops, sipping small cups of coffee and getting zonked on Dutch green without a care in the world.
Of Amsterdam’s seven million visitors each year, at least two million partake of the city’s famous coffee shops, where small amounts of weed are sold along with coffee and pastries. Technically, Marijuana is illegal everywhere in the Netherlands, but it is widely tolerated in cities across the country, especially in Amsterdam.
But that tolerance has been waning in recent years, at least at the level of the national government. And now Amsterdam’s mayor has taken a step many see as the start of a campaign against the country’s cannabis industry.
The mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, has declared that marijuana coffee shops located within 820 feet of secondary schools must close during the school day. Cafe owners say there are already strong safeguards in place to keep children out of their storefronts, and they suspect the rule is the first salvo in a battle to eradicate the open use of pot in Holland.
That’s what the national government has been trying to do for some time. National lawmakers recently barred tourists from using coffee shops. Only legal Dutch residents may buy marijuana now. But the law considers ‘local circumstances,’ and a number of mayors have used that loophole so foreigners can continue to toke.
The last government, which dissolved in 2012, created a special ID for residents that they could use to smoke weed in coffee shops. So far it’s only been used in south Holland, but the current government plans to expand it to the entire country next year.
The changes imposed by the mayor won’t affect cafes’ evening operations or weekend hours. But nervous retailers and smokers see the beginning of a crackdown. National lawmakers have been threatening an end to open Dutch cannabis, and any policy that rolls back the coffee shops’ operations is seen by many as a shot by the government.
“This cannot be true,” a spokesman for a local association of marijuana retailers said. “It’s going to cause problems, and distance from a school is a non-issue. This policy is directed at school pupils, but the under-18s don’t get into a coffee shop anyway because of the tough controls.”