The phrase “weed pass” sounds a lot like the most awesome high school hall pass ever. But in Amsterdam, which has long functioned as Europe’s version of that place underneath the football bleachers where everyone goes to get high during recess, “weed pass” means something completely different.
It’s not about legalizing weed; it’s about restricting it. Already voted into law in Holland, the Weed Pass is essentially an initiative to prevent foreign visitors from engaging in what Dutch conservatives call Drug Tourism. The idea: turn the famous coffee shops into private clubs so that only Dutch residents would be able to visit in Amsterdam and elsewhere. Foreigners, those rolling cliques of American college kids, Australian backpackers and Turkish spacecakers, would have to take their giggle party elsewhere. The law is already nominally in effect since May first, in southern Holland, near the border regions where Germans and Belgians would come buy weed for resale.
I recently visited the 420 Café in Amsterdam—for research purposes of course—and found owner Michael Veling, who is also the spokesman of the union of Amsterdam coffee shops.
The backdrop to all this is that weed is not actually legal in Amsterdam. Coffee shops had proliferated until 15 years ago, they introduced a sort of licensing arrangement, where existing Cafe’s were tolerated and regulated, w increasingly tight restrictions, such as not being able to serve beer, or to mention marijuana in any advertising, in exchange for continued tolerance. Now that tolerance is ending with these new laws, which first took effect in the south of Holland.
“They were introduced [in early May] in the three southerly provinces,” says Veling. “I went down there [to] see it all happening. The funny thing is that although the police have come to the coffeeshops to check if they have foreigners inside or whatever, they haven’t booked anyone yet, they haven’t arrested anyone, they haven’t made a citation… so I think that the DA’s office in this country has cold feet. Where is the arrests? We need an arrest so we can prosecute the legality of discriminating against non-residents.”
Owners are itching for a fight, because they know they will win. At the end of the day, Dutch tourism cannot survive on Van Gogh and tulips alone. And as marijuana laws become laxer around the word, weed is better, cheaper and more readily available from Catalunya to California. Amsterdam’s advantage is still its laid-back, drop-in, fire-up and tune-out coffee shop culture.
For now, it’s business as usual. But if the weed pass passes, in Amsterdam, then it may be the economy that goes, well, up in smoke.