Ta-ta Stoners!

Authors: Zoé Claudel, Julia Morliere, El Fakhretdinova, Anna Gana and Nina Bauerfeld

Date: April 7th 2020

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Ta-ta Stoners!

The Netherlands is commonly referred to as the go-to country to ‘party and have fun’. If one of the reasons why you would visit the Netherlands is cannabis, you might want to tick that off your bucket list sooner rather than later considering the current ongoing debate to ban cannabis consumption for tourists visiting Amsterdam. The capital of the Netherlands is undoubtedly one of the most popular cities worldwide in terms of tourism. Being a hub for culture, history and architecture, the capital attracts all demographics for different reasons. However, more often than not, the first thing comes to mind when you mention Amsterdam is not its beautiful architecture or the fact that it is filled with art culture, but rather its ‘liberal’ approach to cannabis and prostitution. A major issue for the Dutch capital is managing the ever-rising number of tourists. Whilst most cities are looking for ways to increase tourism, Amsterdam sets itself apart by wanting the total opposite. By 2025, the number of tourists is forecasted to reach 29 million. Apparently the solution to the problem would be to ban tourists from buying cannabis from coffeeshops.

The mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, suggested banning tourists from buying cannabis in coffee shops in order to solve the problem of overcrowding, especially in the red-light district. Halsema released a report showing that ⅓ of foreign tourists would be less likely to visit if they could not buy cannabis. With this in mind, we decided to investigate how consequent it is to be able to consume cannabis for tourism in Amsterdam, and you might be surprised at the results. As the most concerned age group who buys cannabis is between 18-35, our research will focus on this group, giving the locals and tourists points of view. This will allow us to evaluate Amsterdam’s tourism scene and hopefully draw potential conclusions on whether cannabis is what really attracts 20 million tourists yearly.

This research focuses on the topic of the potential new law in Amsterdam which would “place a ban on foreign visitors buying cannabis from Amsterdam’s 170 coffee shops” (O’Sullivan, 2020). With Amsterdam attracting several millions of tourists annually (Boffey & Henley, 2020), the potential ban of cannabis for tourists may have some serious implications on the tourism industry and the dynamic of the city in general. This specific topic was selected to research as all five of us are residents of Amsterdam and this is a very relevant and current debate for the city which concerns both tourists, locals of Amsterdam as well as coffee shop owners.

In order to conduct this research, we used different approaches to gather the required data. The original plan was to use the World Value Survey to collect the needed data, however, after trying multiple keywords, no relevant results were found. Instead, we have changed our primary source to be a survey created by us, which will be applicable for both the tourists and the residents of Amsterdam. The survey was anonymous, online and consisted of six questions. These included:

  • Nationality

  • Age

  • Residency

  • Regular cannabis consumption

  • What attracts you to Amsterdam

  • Would you come back to Amsterdam if cannabis were to be banned for tourists?

A survey (see figure 1.0) was not only a great way to collect data but also allowed us to directly communicate with the public and also provided us with a mix of both residents and tourists which was important for this research. The questions were kept very simple and short, as ‘bigger and open questions in surveys prove to be less effective’ (Vaske, 2011). The survey was posted online as it allowed for a broader reach of people and allowed for anonymity. Online surveying has multiple benefits such as being able to reach people of different age ranges (Dominelli, 2003 and Alessi and Edward, 2010). The survey was a self-report survey, meaning the participants answered by themselves without any interference from the researchers. A total of 163 people participated and completed the survey, providing us with data to use to support the research and this paper. The questions asked on the survey can be seen below, in Figure 1.0.

There are some limitations to this method. The main one being that there are only certain age groups that we were able to reach, however, it was the age group we wanted to focus on. The survey allows us to establish which specific group is affected by the possible ban of cannabis for tourists.

Figure 1.0

The second method used to collect data for this research included conducting an interview. The chosen person that was interviewed is Karel Werdler. Werdler is a Tourism and Management and Dark Tourism professor at InHolland University in Amsterdam. Werdler was selected to be interviewed as he was able to contribute his knowledge to this ongoing debate and was able to provide useful insights which will be able to support us for our research.

In addition, we used and incorporated academic and newspaper articles as well as datasets and online blog posts to support us throughout our research process. This was done to ensure that a variety of different sources of information, data and research were used.

An ambiguous matter must be addressed in order to put everyone on the same level of understanding. We intend to clarify the meaning of “regular” smokers as we do realize that everyone could have their one definition of it. After researching on the meaning of being a regular cannabis consumer, we haven’t found a frequency to indicate the minimum level of “regular”. We will first intend to show how much a regular cigarette smoker intakes in a day, and compare it to what cannabis smokers do.

We have found that, according to the survey conducted by the National Center of Health Statistics, that what was previously classified a “regular” smoker is now called “everyday smoker”. The exact definition of everyday smoker stipulates that “an adult who has smoked at least 100 cigarettes in his or her lifetime, and who now smokes every day”. Additionally, according to NHS Digital’s Health survey for the average number of cigarettes smoked in a day, in 2015 the number of cigarettes in a day was 10.

Now to look at the cannabis spectrum of smoke, according to the chief executive of British lung foundation Dame Helena Shovelton, smoking one joint would be equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes. Based on these numbers, we could argue that if a regular cigarette smoker consumes 10 cigarettes a day on average, and that smoking one joint is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes, then a regular cannabis smoker consumes on average one joint every two days.

In order to verify this argument, a questionnaire was created via Instagram’s story function, asking “How often does it mean to regularly smoke cannabis?”. The panel of possible answers included “at least: once a month, once a week, once a day”. The majority of followers answered, “once a week”. So, we will go ahead and define that smoking cannabis regularly as being at least once a week.


Figure 2.0

Initial findings show that the number of people visiting Amsterdam for cannabis consumption was not that high – as it was preconceived prior to the research. With this in mind, it was decided to look at the results in a different manner. Instead of only filtering the people that smoke cannabis regularly (those who would come to Amsterdam for cannabis and would not come back if it was inaccessible to them), which only represented 4.9% of the surveyed people, it was decided to take into account the bigger picture. With this in mind, the aim was to see what does attract people to Amsterdam if it is not cannabis consumption.

Figure 3.0

By closely looking at the results given by the conducted survey, it was apparent that the majority of the surveyees are attracted to Amsterdam for its cultural heritage 41.1% and other reasons 40.5%. Only 18.4% said that what attracts them to Amsterdam is cannabis consumption.

It is clear that out of the 18,4% of people that initially came to Amsterdam for cannabis consumption, 26,6% would not come back if cannabis was banned to tourists. Visually speaking, a big majority of people that have been to Amsterdam (whether it be the cultural heritage, cannabis consumption or other motifs) stated that they would come back even if cannabis was banned for tourists. This means that 26,6% of people that came to Amsterdam for cannabis consumption and would not come back if it was banned to tourists only represents 4,9% out of 163 people.

 Figure 4.0

Figure 4.0 shows the total number of people that wouldn’t come back to Amsterdam if cannabis was to be banned for tourists. As presented above, the number of tourists that would not come back to Amsterdam, in this case, represents one and a half bitterballens out of ten. Even if we love bitterballens, maybe it’s the bite and a half that’s the drop of water that makes the glass spill, as the French would say. All of the findings clearly showed that cannabis is not as important of a factor as it was preconceived. Even if the city is well known on an international scale, for its libertine way of life, especially its legal cannabis consumption, it is not as impactful to restrict it to residents as the public eye might think.

In fact, we have researched multiple activities that might attract people to Amsterdam in order to understand the exponential growth of tourism to 29 million in 2025. Here are the main reasons to visit Amsterdam according to the ‘Interview with a tourist’ video on Youtube:

› Amsterdam’s cultural history (66,1%)

› Museums (50,1%)

› Reputation (33,2%)

› Atmosphere (32,7%)

› Coffeeshops & soft drugs (16,5%)

Aside from the Survey, we have also conducted an interview with a Tourism Management and Dark Tourism professor, questioning the type of tourists that come to Amsterdam, and the effects that banning cannabis to tourists might have on the economy, atmosphere and reputation of the city. This allowed us to get insights on the drug tourism, and tourism of Amsterdam in general, from an expert. In a broader sense, it has answered, especially why the Amsterdam authorities would decide to put such a law in place.

Below is the interview conducted with Karel Werdler:

Which nationality do you see coming more often to Amsterdam and around what age category?

“A lot of Amsterdam’s visitors come from neighbouring countries like Germany, Belgium, France and the UK. Americans, as well as the Spanish and Italians are also common tourists to the city. Overall 50% of visitors to Amsterdam are Dutch nationals. The average age category of visitors is 20-35 for the French, British, Spanish and Italian. And 45-65 years for the Germans and Americans.”

What is your opinion on the potential ban of cannabis for tourists in Amsterdam?

“Time to adjust to a new situation. If people only come for the coffeeshops why still supply them and add to a situation which has led to over-tourism and nuisance for both inhabitants and other visitors. Especially when we are thinking about stag- and hen parties. But the older group might also enjoy a smoke in between their cultural consumption of museums etc. In that case I consider it a different situation. Overall Amsterdam should no longer be presented or seen as a city of sex and drugs. That image is just too cheap and not in line with its resources and opportunities.”

What effects do you think this will have on the tourism industry in Amsterdam?

“The effects of closure I would consider positive when it means that certain groups (bachelor party type) would refrain from visiting Amsterdam. Their contribution to the tourism economy is negligible and their presence not really an addition to the street scene.”

After conducting the interview with Werdler, it has become clear that the main motive for a large number of the tourists visiting Amsterdam is indeed the drug, in particular the cannabis scene. According to Werdler, the presence of these specific tourists tend to be no positive addition to the streets of Amsterdam.

Before having started this research, we assumed that most people are attracted to Amsterdam for cannabis consumption. After conducting the survey, the results surprised us. It was interesting to observe that, within two degrees of separation, most people appreciate the city for its culture, museums, and history instead of cannabis consumption. As the city is getting more and more crowded, the initiative of banning cannabis from tourists, in order to avoid overcrowding, makes a point. This point is precisely the title of this article: “Ta-ta stoners”, a decision that the mayor of Amsterdam is potentially willing to take. Amsterdam has a reputation worldwide and that is most certainly not related to its culture or architecture.  The capital of the Netherlands is and has always been seen as a party destination where people come for a weekend trip to have fun. For this reason, the city of a thousand canals is always full of bachelor/bachelorette parties or groups of young people who are looking for a fun time.

This “de-legalisation” of cannabis to tourists might have the surprising effect of broadening the spectrum of Amsterdam’s reputation and atmosphere, to allow people to see the city for what it really offers, and get past this smoke blizzard that covers the city as you step out of Central Station. According to Karel Werdler, Amsterdam should not reflect a reputation of sex and drugs at the frontline of tourism as it is “too cheap and not in line with its resources and opportunities”.

What we have realised is that tourism won’t be affected, but simply changed. According to Karel Werdler’s answers and to the small number of people that wouldn’t come back because of the cannabis factor, it will have a positive effect. This will allow locals and tourists to enjoy what Amsterdam has to offer past the cannabis and to declutter the city of tourists who are not essential. For the economy, 4,9% is a number that the Dutch government is willing to take in order to make the city more enjoyable for the locals and remaining tourists. The Netherlands initially authorized cannabis to deal with bigger drugs, but it’s not because they stopped “prosecuting pot smokers” (Kuper 2018), that they would want this to become the main tourist attraction. As we have found through our survey (out of 163 18-35-year-olds) less than 20% said they came to Amsterdam for cannabis, of which 26,6% of those wouldn’t come back. This only affects a small number of tourists and might affect Amsterdam in the best way, leaving space to appreciate the Dutch way of life, cultural heritage and educational hub for example.

Through our survey, the data we collected shows that out of the 55 regular cannabis smokers, 70% came to Amsterdam for cultural heritage or “other” reasons. Another interesting finding to point is that, out of the 20 regular cannabis consumers, and whose motif to visit Amsterdam was cannabis, 70% would still come back. This goes to show that, despite cannabis being the main attraction, the city has offered more to these tourists, whose interests concerning the city were cannabis consumption, and has given them a desire to come back. Could this indicate that behind the liberal drug culture also lies an interest for bitterballens, the Moco Museum and canal cruises? Based on a YouTube video titled “interview with a tourist”, 66,1% were interested in Amsterdam’s cultural history. At the bottom of the list were the Coffeeshops and Drugs with 16,5% of interest.

How is it possible to see such a “décalage” between the image that Amsterdam projects of tourists coming primarily for cannabis, and the diversity that it actually gives, of a cultural, social and economic hub? That might be that when thinking or remembering a city, one always thinks back to what was striking. As Amsterdam is known for liberalising most things that are illegal in other countries of the world, it is natural to think of what is “exotic” to foreigners, just as one might think of Paris as a city where people walk with berets, baguettes and smoke while philosophising and posing existential questions. This is not completely off the truth, it just gives the stereotypical picture and overall mentality that differs Paris from other cities, or countries.

To conclude this research, it has become clear that cannabis has and still does play a large role for Amsterdam and its tourists. Cannabis, as well as prostitution, can be seen as the cities ‘branding’ and play a significant role in attracting tourists to Amsterdam. As Werdler mentioned in his interview “Overall Amsterdam should no longer be presented or seen as a city of sex and drugs” (Werdler, 2020).

To conclude this research, it has become clear that cannabis has and still does play a large role for Amsterdam and its tourists. Cannabis, as well as prostitution, can be seen as the cities ‘branding’ and play a significant role in attracting tourists to Amsterdam. As Werdler mentioned in his interview “Overall Amsterdam should no longer be presented or seen as a city of sex and drugs” (Werdler, 2020).

After conducting the self-report survey, it was visible that out of the 163 participants that completed the survey, only 18.4% initially came to Amsterdam with the sole motivation and purpose of cannabis. Only roughly a quarter of this 18.4 % would return if cannabis were to be banned for tourists. And out of the 163 people, 12,8% wouldn’t come back. Now even if this number isn’t as big as we would have initially assumed it to be, it’s still significant. However, this number wouldn’t have a negative impact, but rather a positive effect on tourism in Amsterdam.

This research has enabled us to broaden our understanding of Amsterdam and its drug and tourism industry. It has also made it clear that despite the large number of tourists that Amsterdam attracts daily, cannabis may not be as prominent as we initially assumed it was. Even though Amsterdam may be branded as the city of ‘Sex and Drugs’, tourists are also just as attracted to all the other wonderful features that Amsterdam has to offer. People are not only interested in and convinced by the front cover they also take the time to read the resumé, the author’s story and end up buying the book. This research broadened our front cover of Amsterdam. It has shown us that tourists, as well as locals, appreciate Amsterdam for its rich cultural, social, economical, and educational background. The numbers come to show that it’s not the quantity but the quality that matters.

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Posted in Data Journalism 2020