Dutch Pot Tourism Draws to an End

By Tony O'Neill 12/01/11

A ruling will start to limit foreigners' access to pot a month from today, and end pot tourism in the Netherlands by 2013.

Many coffee shops have catered specifically
for foreign tourists.
Photo via

It’s the end of an era: many Dutch coffee shops will no longer sell marijuana to tourists, starting on January 1st 2012, with a nationwide ban to follow in 2013.  That means you have just one month to hotfoot it to Holland to enjoy legal pot, thanks to a controversial ruling by the Dutch Justice Ministry. Dutch coffee shops have openly sold small amounts of weed since 1976. The change is intended to cut down on anti-social behavior by the tourists who flood Dutch cities like Amsterdam, drawn by drugs. Some Dutch MPs oppose the move, branding it “tourism suicide.” The new policy means coffee shops must become “private clubs,” with a maximum of 2,000 members each, requiring membership cards. The cards will only be available to Dutch residents. A pilot program launched on October 1 in the border city of Maastricht confined cannabis sales to Dutch, German and Belgian customers. This reportedly led to the loss of over 345 jobs and will cost the city approximately $41 million dollars per year in pot tourism, mostly from France.

The ban will take effect in the southern Netherlands first, and by 2013 will engulf the entire country, including Amsterdam. Some are already suggesting it will be counter-productive: “If tourists are denied access to coffee-shops, illegal sales and drug dealing on the streets of Amsterdam will increase," says I Amsterdam, a consortium that includes the Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board. "The City of Amsterdam does not want to facilitate soft drug use by tourists, but to help those who wish to use drugs to do so as responsibly as possible." According to Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board spokesman Machteld Ligvoet, the move was has been forced upon the city by the government: “The Dutch government has decided this for the whole of the Netherlands. Amsterdam doesn’t want it.” The open sale of weed in Amsterdam is soon going to be another thing we reminisce about—just like the days when getting on an airplane didn’t feel like trying to cross Checkpoint Charlie. It seems strange that the Dutch government has decided to focus on pot smokers in its bid to crack down on rowdy tourists. A better idea might be to ban the sale of alcohol.  

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.