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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Amsterdam bans guided tours of the red-light district, considers cracking down on tourists in cannabis cafes

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A new rule in Amsterdam will implement a partial ban on guided tours of its famed red-light district. Additionally, officials are considering a ban on marijuana purchases at cannabis cafes. These changes are an effort to crack down on the overtourism epidemic that has swept through the Netherlands’ capital city in recent years.

The red-light-district rule, set to take effect in April, will still allow tours as long as guides stay away from the windows that reveal sex workers in various poses.

“It is disrespectful to treat sex workers as a tourist attraction,” Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Victor Everhardt said in a statement last week.

We’re in the age of the overtourist. You can avoid being one of them.

According to the Associated Press, up to 115 tours are held a day, creating a culture of abuse for sex workers who are routinely harassed and photographed without their consent. The hope is that the new restriction will reduce crowds on the historical streets, curb rowdiness and “prevent disruptions for residents and businesses,” Everhardt said.

The windows of that district that line Amsterdam’s famous canals aren’t the only attraction that locals say is disruptive. The city is also considering a ban on the purchase of marijuana by tourists.

For years, Amsterdam has been informally known as the weed capital of Europe, due to gedoogbeleid, or its “policy of tolerance” that allows for the minor possession of pot in the Netherlands and its relative ease of sale in coffee shops.

Cannabis cafes are allowed to operate mostly unbothered, because of the revenue foreigners bring in, and because officials fear an illegal marijuana market would bring on an unwanted criminal element.

To better understand how cannabis plays into Amsterdam’s tourism industry, the office of the mayor, Femke Halsema, administered a survey that showed nearly a third of international tourists would be less likely to visit if they were banned from buying pot in coffee shops.

Other findings included: Nearly half of all Britons would consider going elsewhere if Amsterdam banned cannabis cafes, and close to 10 percent of all visitors to the country would never come again.

Going forward, the mayor also called for “a study this year to reduce the attraction of cannabis to tourists and the (local) regulation of the back door” policy that makes her city attractive to organized crime gangs and some of the more reckless visitors, according to the Guardian.

No steps have been taken yet to reduce the popularity of marijuana sales to tourists at cannabis cafes.

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Amsterdam, famous for attractions like the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House and with a population of 1.1 million, has seen officials and residents become frustrated with the nearly 20 million tourists who visit every year.

“This was an actual neighborhood. Now, the tourists have crowded us out. It’s a place where tourists mainly see other tourists,” a lifelong resident told NPR.

Like other European cities, including Venice and Barcelona, Amsterdam is struggling with increasing waves of tourists, attempting to stem the tide by bumping up taxes on hotel and rental stays, banning activities like “party bikes” and encouraging tourists to leave the city proper altogether for places like Zandvoort, a beach.

Rick Noack and Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.

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