Amsterdam could ban foreign visitors from buying cannabis in its famous coffee shops in an effort to reduce tourism.
The city is struggling to cope with the huge numbers of people that flock there to take advantage of its tolerant drug policy – more than 17 million a year for a city with just 1.1 million permanent residents.
Mayor Femke Halsema wants to reduce those numbers in an effort to clean up Amsterdam's seedy red light district. In a letter to councillors on how to reduce the attraction of drug use to foreigners, she pointed to recent survey results that indicate cannabis is a key motivator for many tourists.
100 people aged between 18 and 35 were surveyed, with 57% saying coffee shops were an important part of why they chose to visit Amsterdam.
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Nearly half (42%) of Brits say they'd be less likely to visit the city again if they were barred from making use of its famous hash coffee shops, according to the survey conducted by Amsterdam's research, information and statistics office.
Some 34% of all visitors to the Singel area, where the red light district is located, say they'd come to the city less often if foreigners were barred from buying cannabis, while 11% say they'd never return.
Under "gedoogbeleid", meaning policy of tolerance, the Dutch government permits licensed coffee shops to sell cannabis on their premises but not to produce it, meaning the shops often do business with organised crime gangs in order to procure cannabis.
Mayor Helsema said she wanted to commission "a study this year to reduce the attraction of cannabis to tourists and the (local) regulation of the back door".
"A clear separation of markets between hard drugs and soft drugs has great urgency because of the hardening of the trade in hard drugs," she wrote.
In a separate announcement on Thursday, Amsterdam city hall said a ban on group tours of the red light district would come into effect on April 1. Tours in other parts of the city that contain sex workers' windows will also be banned, and guided tours anywhere else in the centre will require a permit.
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At present, up to 115 guided tours pass through the red light district everyday, with residents complaining of inconvenience and sex workers saying tourists are often abusive and take photos without consent.
The council voted to limit the size of tours to 15 people and ban them from stopping in busy places.
Deputy mayor Victor Everhardt said it is "disrespectful to treat sex workers as a tourist attraction".
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