Bad news for cannabis consumers who intend to visit Amsterdam. According to new rules made public by the city, smoking marijuana on the street in Amsterdam’s iconic Red Light District will soon be prohibited. This is a move that seeks to improve the quality of life for locals in the area by decreasing the potential for conflicts between smokers and passers-by.

The city council also informed the public that almost all council members favored taking action to lessen annoyance for residents. Residents of the old city center are structurally and excessively bothered by the crowds and nuisance caused by mass tourism and substance abuse in the public space, according to a city council statement released this week.

The laws will go into effect in the middle of May. The regulations also include bans on drinking alcohol and playing loud music in the streets of the Red Light District, and a limit to the number of visitors allowed at any given time. Additionally, the city council mandated on Thursday that restaurants and bars must close by 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, sex workers will leave their locations by 3 a.m., and that no new visitors are allowed in the old city district after 1 a.m. 

These new regulations have been put in place to limit the amount of alcohol and cannabis consumed by citizens, as well as reduce the negative impacts these substances can have on the community. Amsterdam is one of the most well-known cities for its cannabis cafes, which are legal and offer a range of products for sale.  

Public Complaints

Locals for years have complained that the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as street dealers, have led to an increase in crime. Amsterdam’s city council stated in the press release that the new proposals supplement the existing measures, which include the deployment of hosts and hostesses on the street, a one-way traffic system for pedestrians at busy times and the closure of parts of the Wallen area.

Red Light District
Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis

The Red Light District & The Legalization of Sex Workers

As one of the first countries in Europe to legalize prostitution, the nation lifted the prohibition on brothels, recognized prostitution as sex work and gave local governments control over the sex industry. Prostitution in the Netherlands became legal in 1999. Forced prostitution, which is a form of human trafficking, is still illegal.

Sex workers in the Netherlands are provided with regular health checks and access to social security. The United Nations estimates that there are 25,000 sex workers in Amsterdam, and that the majority of them are women. The actual number may be higher because some sex workers choose to work covertly. Some of them work in the Red Light District’s shop windows, while others may work as escorts for private clients or in nightclubs or brothels.

The legalization of prostitution in the Netherlands has been a controversial issue. Many people are arguing that it exploits vulnerable populations and perpetuates gender inequality.  

Cannabis Tourism

Cannabis tourism in the Netherlands is also a contentious subject. While proponents of cannabis tourism argue that it helps generate jobs and taxes, opponents point out that tourists coming to the Netherlands for this purpose may be contributing to a culture of drug dependency.

There are about 160 coffee shops in Amsterdam, with the Red Light District housing the majority of them. Every coffee shop offers a wide variety of options, from hipster-like locations to more touristy establishments. Prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, the coffee shops and red-light district drew more than one million visitors per month, which was more than the city’s permanent population. Most of the 46 million visitors to the Netherlands in 2019 arrived in Amsterdam, where many of them bought and smoked cannabis, according to the nation’s data.

Several European countries, including Austria, Spain and Portugal, have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis. This movement is part of a larger trend towards decriminalization of drug possession in many countries, and it places an emphasis on prevention and harm reduction over criminalization and punishment.