AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The city of Amsterdam, led by Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, has lifted the ban on tourists smoking marijuana that took effect last May 1, 2012.
I was able to visit the city known as XXX to checkout why their tolerance on soft drugs has been a hot topic by residents, tourists and the global community.
Marijuana Coffee Shops
Amsterdam is known for its coffee shops that are unlike any other coffee shop you would find in other parts of the world.
Coffee shops in this Dutch city are authorized sales outlets for soft drugs such as marijuana. The use of marijuana and hash is permitted in these establishments.
|World's first coffee shop that's been visited by celebrities such as David Bowie, Mariah Carey, Snoop Doggy Dog, Gloria Estefan, Sean Penn, Rihanna and many more.
According to information forwarded to me by press officer Tahira Limon, the idea behind this policy is to regulate the use and trade of soft drugs and to try to avoid users being introduced to hard drugs. Residents and non-residents under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter coffee shops or use soft drugs.
The use of cannabis in Netherlands is not strictly legal. A customer is permitted to purchase a maximum of 5 grams of cannabis per day. Its use is tolerated because possession of small amounts was decriminalized in the 1970s.
|Softland Coffee Shop Photo and Menu
Amidst the decriminalization, the Amsterdam government makes sure they are in control of the number of coffee shops in the city. In mid-2011, there were 222 coffee shops in the city and the large majority of these were located in the Centre District of the city.
Amsterdam city information office explains that their soft drug policy is focused on discouraging young people from using soft drugs and on creating responsible empowerment for users.
The rule of not allowing those under the age of 18 in coffee shops is closely monitored.
The policy is also directed at combating public nuisance and criminal elements.
It also aims to protect the health of users. Quality control and safety are also achieved thru product transparency and proper regulation.
|Marijuana microscopes are available for use in a coffee shop for quality control
According to some reports, legal coffee shops have helped reduce the prevalence of illegal soft drugs street trading, especially among tourists.
Psychological experts have also attributed the success of the Amsterdam drug policy due to the fact that "the forbidden fruit effect is gone."
A law introduced by the previous Dutch government to regulate their policy was implemented in May 1, 2012. The law stated that only Dutch residents with a membership card called a "weed pass" could purchase and smoke marijuana in coffee shops. A national ban on foreigners using cannabis was also planned by the end of 2012.
The new law was intended to curb drug use and prevent organized crime drug dealers from operating in the Netherlands. It also prevents them from buying drugs to sell abroad.
Lifting the Ban
According to Amsterdam City officials, the ban initiated by the previous government has been lifted.
Tourists can now continue to visit coffee shops to buy and take soft drugs such as marijuana. This policy will continue also after the supposed January 2013 national ban for foreigners. The decision by the distinguished Mayor Eberhard van der Laan is based on the latest coalition presented by the new Cabinet last October 2012.
The announcement came after the newly-appointed government of the Netherlands said it would be up to local authorities to implement or disapprove the ban.
The move was received happily by some cafe owners I met, who said that 90% of their income come from foreign tourists.
|Author checking out the famous Amnesia marijuana in a coffee shop
The weed pass or membership card policy for Dutch residents, already initiated in the south of the Netherlands, has also been eliminated.
According to the city government, over 5 million tourists visit Amsterdam every year generating income of an estimated 5.7 billion euros annually.
The city says that denying tourists access to coffee shops would result to lower revenue, an increase in street trade, organized crime, dishonesty in products and greater health risks in general.
John Paul C.Tanchanco is a travel, food, party, film and music aficionado. He is also an economist, businessman, MYX/Awit award-winning media producer and Kala guitarist.
"Tha Good Life" is a special feature for ABS-CBNnews.com about pop culture, travel, music, entertainment, business, food, clubbing, shopping and events.
For questions, features and comments, e-mail him at [email protected] or [email protected]