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Amsterdam is banning marijuana use on streets of red light district

<i>Jasper Juinen/The New York Times/Redux</i><br/>Sidewalks are often packed with tourists in the Red Light district in Amsterdam.
JASPER JUINEN/The New York Times
Jasper Juinen/The New York Times/Redux
Sidewalks are often packed with tourists in the Red Light district in Amsterdam.

By Mick Krever and Amarachi Orie, CNN

In a bid to improve the quality of life for residents, Amsterdam will ban the use of marijuana on the street and take new steps to discourage alcohol in its red light district, the traditional center of the city’s legal sex work trade.

“Residents of the old city center experience a lot of nuisance from mass tourism and alcohol and drug abuse on the street,” the Municipality of Amsterdam said in a statement on Thursday.

“Tourists also attract street dealers, who in turn promote criminality and insecurity. Especially at night, the atmosphere can become grim. People who are under the influence also stick around longer,” it added.

The municipality noted: “Residents cannot sleep well and the neighborhood is becoming unsafe and unliveable.”

In addition to a ban on smoking marijuana on the street, Amsterdam said it will ramp up measures to discourage sales of alcohol. These are already banned after 4 p.m. Thursday to Sunday. The city said it would now also require alcohol to be hidden from view or removed from stores during those hours.

It said it hoped the smoking ban would reduce nuisance. If this doesn’t work, the municipality said it would also consider banning take-out purchases of soft drugs at certain times, and banning smoking marijuana at coffee shops’ outdoor seating areas.

The new rules will take effect in mid-May. Residents will have a chance to offer their opinions on them via an online forum.

‘Stay away’

It is estimated that about 10% to 15% of Amsterdam’s tourist industry is based in the red light district.

City officials want the De Wallen neighborhood, as the district is known in Dutch, to draw visitors who can appreciate its unique heritage, architecture and culture rather than sex and drugs.

Over the past few years, there have been multiple initiatives to reduce the impact of mass tourism and nuisance visitors, and to revamp the area’s image.

In 2020, guided tours were prohibited from passing sex workers’ windows, and there was talk of moving the window brothels to a neighborhood outside of the city center — conversations that continue to this day.

For several years, the “We Live Here” campaign has been used to make visitors aware that ordinary people live in the red light district, and the most recent “stay away” campaign — launched toward the end of last year — has focused on actively discouraging international visitors with plans to “go wild” in Amsterdam.

This year, Amsterdam is expected to receive more than 18 million overnight visitors. By 2024, that number could reach 23 million, in addition to another 24-25 million day visits, according to the local authority’s research and statistics department. When the number of overnight visitors reaches 18 million, the city council is “obliged to intervene” under a 2021 ordinance called “Amsterdam Tourism in Balance.”

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Blane Bachelor and Katja Brokke contributed to this report.

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