Amsterdam makes it illegal to smoke cannabis outdoors

Tourists and residents flouting the ban in public spaces will face fines of €100

After years of threatening to clean up Amsterdam’s ancient red light district, the city council took the first step on Thursday by making it illegal to smoke cannabis outdoors.

In a move described by one newspaper as “a historic intervention” in the Dutch capital’s liberal ethos, tourists, and even local residents, found flouting the ban in public spaces will face fines of €100 – widely advertised in a billboard campaign in Dutch and English.

The fines are the most visible in a series of new measures backed by the city’s GreenLeft mayor, Femke Halsema, including earlier closing times for brothels and bars, tighter control of alcohol sales and a “stay away” campaign aimed at rowdy stag parties and pub crawls, most of whom come from the UK.

So-called “coffee shops” in the red light district – known locally as De Wallen – will still be able to sell cannabis legally, at least in the medium term, depending on whether a more dramatic redevelopment plan for the area is pushed through by the council.


As it stands, hard drugs are already illegal, public consumption of alcohol away from licensed premises is illegal and the sale or use of laughing gas has been illegal since January 1st of this year.

More than 18 million tourists visited the city when it reopened post-pandemic last year, and the mayor warned that change was inevitable and increasingly urgent in a setting where even ambulances frequently couldn’t navigate the maze of packed streets to reach emergencies.

The latest ban on public consumption of cannabis has been welcomed by the leader of the Christian Democrats on the city council, Diederik Boomsma, who said he’d been calling for it “for years”.

“Some days you can’t walk around the city centre without breathing in the persistent stench of cannabis fumes”, he said. “And glassy-eyed tourist zombies staggering about ... that has to stop.”

Last year, tired of canvassing city hall, local residents began their own campaign, Stop de Gekte – Stop the Madness – in which members wearing high-visibility jackets began patrolling the streets to “remind tourists of their manners” – warning that the area was no longer safe or “liveable”.

However, the group – which supported its message with plenty of graphic video footage posted online – announced this week that it had abandoned its Wallen Watch patrols because, it said, of “intimidation and threats” by some local business owners.

In the longer term though, residents will also be heartened that the council appears determined to press ahead with its hugely controversial plan to move essentially the entire red light district to a new “erotic centre” in a more manageable suburban part of the city.

Predictably, however, all three areas so far identified are up in arms at the idea of hosting “the mega-brothel”.

At the same, scores of sex workers from De Wallen have been protesting at city hall saying they do not want to move – claiming the plan is part of a long-term blueprint to redevelop scarce acres of hugely valuable city centre property.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court