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Amsterdam’s New War On Its Pot Shops

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As the first federal Dutch cannabis cultivation bid goes down in flames, Amsterdam city officials propose banning tourists from its cannabis cafes.

Long the progressive cannabis outlier during the 1980’s and 1990’s, even if operated in a grey area, Amsterdam if not Holland beyond that, gave the world a first look at what a relatively open cannabis industry might look like.

In this century, however, the Dutch have lurched from one unsuccessful campaign to the next to better regulate the industry – and so far have only included imposing regulations that have drastically shrunk the number of coffee shops but not consumers. While some of these campaigns, such as closing down cafes that operated near schools were noncontroversial, the current proposal – to ban all tourists from Amsterdam’s coffee shops just announced last week – makes little sense. Not to mention has little chance of succeeding.

Coming as it does on the heels of tighter lockdowns in Europe that will also begin to lift again this spring, as well as the failed first cultivation tender in the country, it is also clearly a short-term political play meant to impose long-lasting limits.

Of course, this latest move has not gone unopposed. The business association representing the coffee shops, the BCD, has begun lobbying hard against the ban as has the national PCN representing cannabis businesses across the Netherlands. They are joined by several policymaking non-profits who have focused on cannabis.

Their advertisement against the ban points out that restricting tourist access will not be successful (it never has been before). It also pointed out the difficulties faced by non-Dutch legal residents. As the industry-backed ad summed up the issue, “The coffee shops are not the enemy, but an essential facility and an effective ally in the fight against illegal drug trafficking in the city.”

Whither Next?

This development is unlikely to be entirely divorced from the recent failure of the Dutch cultivation bid. It is also clearly a short-term play by officials to try and nail an ever-present thorn in their sides by attaching an idea born of a Pandemic that will never hold water after it.

It is unlikely, in other words, that cash-starved retail businesses of any kind, will, or should be placed in the position, of turning down customers, no matter where they hail from.

Stay tuned. The next steps are likely to be very interesting, especially at a time when several European countries are moving forward on the recreational cannabis discussion.

Be sure to attend the next International Cannabis Business Conference this summer in Berlin to find out all the latest developments on rapidly changing European cannabis policy.