According to Daily Mail UK:
Earlier this week, the Netherlands announced plans for new regulations that effectively ban tourists from visiting the ‘coffee shops’ where drugs are openly smoked. Here, Priscilla Pollara assesses the pros and cons of such restrictions, and wonders whether – whatever your opinions on narcotics – this is the wisest of moves by the Dutch.
Posted by Priscilla Pollara, Travel Writer, TravelMail
To say they offer a ‘unique’ tourist experience would be to understate the facts.
Indeed, if someone had ever had the ingenious idea of planting a camera at the entrance to every Dutch ‘coffeehouse’, the aghast faces of all its unwitting visitors would undoubtedly have, by now, made for some entertaining viewing.
For most of us, coffee shops sell nothing more than over-sized caffeine drinks and the odd calorific pastry. Perhaps even a sandwich or two.
In the Netherlands, however, the term ‘coffeehouse’ is little more than a euphemism. For it is here where people (either first-time visitors or neighbourhood regulars) come to peruse, buy and/or enjoy a large selection of drugs. They are distinguishable from ordinary cafes by the subtle drug-innuendo artwork which adorns their exteriors.
The country’s relaxed drug policy, which allows the sale of cannabis products in ‘licensed venues’, is the reason transactions of this type can take place. Born in 1970, coffeehouses quickly became a grand source of income – partly because the Dutch are said to enjoy only ‘high-quality’ narcotics, partly through sheer intrigue.
This week, however, the Dutch introduced a new set of anti-drugs laws which will see foreigners effectively banned from entering ‘coffeehouses’. In the future, customers will be forced to sign up for a yearly membership – a ‘dope pass’ – if they want to gain entry. Each shop (there are 800 in total) will be allocated only 1500 of these passes in any 12-month period. These restrictions – a word so ironically used in conjunction with the famously liberal Holland – are due to come into play by the close of the year.
But is this a wise decision by the usually sage Dutch? Do they not now stand to endanger their all-important multi-million-pound tourist revenue?
The Netherlands has some enduring emblems. Edam cheese, orange football shirts and lemon-yellow wooden clogs for starters. And characteristic canals, veal ‘krokets’, windmills, kaleidoscopic tulip fields – and of course, heady brands of beer.
Drugs, however, also play a key part in Netherlands’ image – as do the various red-light districts up and down this small country. Of course, it isn’t so much the substances or the lascivious acts themselves which are celebrated, more the infamy. And with it, the magnetic tourist pull that they have both have come to acquire.
The majority of us do not hail from places where corner shops freely sell cannabis – instead of the ordinary croissant – behind attractive glass-display cabinets. Few of us see scantily-clad women, enticing passers-by from shop windows, on a daily basis.
Yet while these may be a tiny detail in the make-up of the Netherlands, for some Dutch citizens they are as nationally symbolic as their abundant cheeses and bicycles.
What is undeniable is that – whether one dabbles in coffee shops and the ‘exotic’ nightlife – or find yourself repulsed by the whole spectacle – both aspects have served the Netherlands’ economy well. They are part of the DNA of the likes of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, contributing to a schizophrenic appeal that makes these cities perfect both for couples seeking romantic walks or men on an alcoholic stag-do.
The Dutch claim the new regulations ‘will put an end to the nuisance and criminality associated with coffee shops and drugs trafficking’.
But won’t the banning of foreigners from coffee shops simply encourage the growth of a thriving black market? And after years of standing out from the crowd, do the Dutch really want to become known for backhand business dealings?
‘It’s a bold move,’ a concerned Dutchman tells me. ‘It will definitely cost Holland, or more to the point, Amsterdam, much of the revenue it generates from tourism.
‘Most travellers are young backpackers who come on the promise of seeing something they don’t normally see, and there is no way that those coming from far and wide will be organised enough to subscribe to memberships before their arrival. We will lose their business.’
Some people say the Dutch are committing ‘tourism suicide’. At a time when flying has never been easier, is it wise for a country to rid itself of one of its most recognisable attributes?