Banning the Hand That Feeds You

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, the old saying goes, but say it ain’t so according to new legislations by the Dutch government. The Dutch, it turns out, are moving forward with a plan to restrict access to their famous “coffee shops” as part of a movement to tighten the rules surrounding what is often known as “drug tourism”.

Although very liberal on their policies involving “soft” drugs such as marijuana, Dutch politicians brought up the idea of limiting access to the coffee shops to locals and even bringing forward a registration program that would be mandatory for those seeking membership to one of the Netherlands’ many coffee shops. The plans are part of a nationwide program targeting crime and promoting health; those particular restrictions aiming to reduce the risks of avoidable criminality surrounding the country’s current policies.

While the introduction of restrictions isn’t unexpected due to the country, and particularly its Capital’s desire to revamp themselves and appeal to tourists for reasons other than the Netherlands’ infamously open soft drugs policies, the complete exclusion of any and all tourists is the true head-scratcher.

The parallel between acceptance and legality seems to be behind these changes as it comes down to what the Dutch government tolerates for their people as opposed to what they wish to offer tourists visiting the Netherlands. This brings up an ethical concern though as it creates a double standard which could easily get out of hand in the future. After all, would a lot of people go to Vegas if casinos were illegal to anyone who didn’t live in Nevada? There’s no real difference between gambling in Nevada and the liberal policies surrounding soft drugs in the Netherlands; either these things are illegal or not, but they cannot be both.

As a rule of thumb, anyone who travels must obey any and all local laws and will be prosecuted accordingly if those laws are broken. For example, the legal drinking age in Quebec is 18 while our neighbors in Ontario cannot legally drink until they are 19. That being said, the law goes both ways and an 18 year old Quebecer cannot purchase liquor in Ontario while an 18 year old Ontarian can drink in Quebec.

It all comes down to the fact that those liberal views are very attractive to some tourists and it’s hard to pretend that tourism won’t be impacted when we know that over 90% of the customer base of those coffee shops is foreign. Coffee shops are valuable tax-paying businesses and denying service to tourists is discriminatory, in a way, as it labels tourists as careless idiots who have no idea how to act decently if put in contact with products sold in coffee shops. On a financial standpoint, the loss of tourism looming over the Netherlands because of those changes should definitely not be ignored as a percentage of the current 20-something backpackers, travelers and general people who will “try it once” visiting Amsterdam will probably end up spending less as a direct result of these changes.

Socially, while the idea behind the new policies makes sense and follows the rest of the world’s views on the use or purchase of soft drugs, it remains to be seen if the double standard used in this situation will impact the way other countries view area-specific situations and create a precedent. Will tourists all of the sudden be unwelcomed from Mass at the Vatican? Will the Great Wall of China be limited to Chinese people only? Is it fair to look at tourists as being different and “unworthy” of being part of specific situations?

ETA; How timely; the Associated Press just posted something about how Thailand doesn’t want tourists getting ‘Bouddha’ tattoos when in Thailand.

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