Amsterdam’s cannabis culture in decline

The unexpected fall of the cannabis capital of the world

by Paul Iacampo · February 06, 2023

Amsterdam’s cannabis culture in decline

When most people think of Amsterdam, they likely conjure a number of images. Maybe they’ll think of the colorful facades of the buildings that line the canals, or they’ll imagine fresh fried potatoes and mayonnaise, or the wooden shoes, the tulips, the windmills. They’re also very likely to think of an adult playground, a place where hedonistic fantasies are realized, where little red lights glow over little rooms down narrow little alleyways, and where plumes of thick cannabis smoke billow out of the coffee shops and into quaint, windings streets packed with curious tourists.

Since conservatives came into power, however, coffee shops have been steadily closing and cannabis festivals have been canceled.

What changed for Amsterdam’s cannabis industry, and why

Amsterdam has long been considered a progressive beacon, having legalized gay marriage, euthanasia, and prostitution well before most of its neighbors. It has also long been heralded as the cannabis capital of the world, its legendary coffee shops serving up your favorite beverage while you peruse their menu of cannabis offerings.

In the wake of 911, fear and suspicion was high and politics in the Netherlands shifted to the right. A push to crack down on drug trafficking and youth drug use was included in the conservatives' agenda, and the country’s coffee shops–some 300 in Amsterdam alone–started suffering the brunt of the crackdown. In an effort to curb drug use among teenagers, coffee shops within the vicinity of schools were closed, and many were shut down over minor infractions that used to be overlooked. The 27th High Times Cannabis Cup, an iconic annual cannabis festival, was canceled when it was claimed that organizers lacked the necessary permits. The festival has not been held in Amsterdam since. Most recently, a law was passed banning cannabis smoking in the Red Light District, claiming street drug use was making daily life intolerable for locals.

Optimism for the revival of Amstersdam’s world famous cannabis culture

Cannabis laws in the Netherlands have always been complicated, as the plant is still technically illegal for coffee shops to purchase but legal for customers to buy; the long-standing practice of turning a blind eye to these kinds of legal gray areas is being challenged.

And while the Weed Pass which restricts cannabis use in coffee shops to Dutch nationals doesn’t apply to Amsterdam, the fear is that if it eventually includes the city, it will deal a major blow to the economy.

Since it is heavily reliant on cannabis tourism, there is some hope that the Asmterdam of old can gradually be restored. New festivals have been planned in lieu of the Cannabis Cup, with the hopes of generating renewed interests in tourists and locals alike and reviving the free-spirited, cannabis-friendly culture for which Amsterdam was so famous.