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Tourists and residents now face €100 fine for public smoking in De Wallen, but some business owners are worried about impact
Thick fumes of cannabis smoke were noticeably absent from the air of Amsterdam’s red light district on Thursday, the familiar smell replaced by dank canal water and rats on the first day of a ban on smoking marijuana in public.

After years of complaints from residents about wild behaviour from 18 million annual visitors, a crackdown on nuisance tourism is in full swing. Last month, the municipality started a “stay away” campaign – aimed first at misbehaving Britons – that banned alcohol sales in shops at the weekend and imposed earlier closing times for window brothels and pubs.

Jim Zielinski, a spokesperson for the Bulldog coffee shop and a board member of business group Biz Burgwallen, said some were angry. “The soul of the neighbourhood, what makes it so extraordinary, is slowly being pulled out,” he said. “It’s like a game of Jenga: each time they take a block away and at some point the whole pile will collapse.”
He believes the answer is more policing of existing laws against public alcohol drinking and drug dealing. “The city simply cannot get a grip on safety, littering, the people who walk around the streets screaming and have no respect,” he said.

Some tourists in the area on Thursday morning thought it was reasonable to ban public cannabis smoking while continuing to let people buy and smoke in coffee shops. Ethan Nordberg, 19, an American studying in Germany, was surprised at the new fines. “We did see signs but we thought they were just there,” he said. His friend Jason Diehl, 18, added that the Netherlands was still relatively permissive. “There’s a €140 fine for public urination, but in the US, you would go on the sex offenders list for indecent exposure!” he said.

A middle-aged English man sitting on a cafe terrace furtively smoking a joint had not heard about the “stay away” campaign. He decided he didn’t want to talk to the press.

Some locals worry Amsterdammers are just as likely to be caught up in the fines, especially after long-running battles with the council over new Airbnb-style rental regulation. “The rules will be difficult for visitors to understand, because they might be able to smoke on the other side of the canal, or on a private terrace in the red light district,” said Maarten Bruinsma, chair of the Amsterdam Gastvrij, and a bed and breakfast owner. “So we can only hope the council doesn’t treat unwitting offenders as disproportionately as they did short-stay hosts, who made unintentional mistakes thanks to complex rules.”

The policy sparked contrarian instincts among others. One occasional joint smoker commented: “It almost makes one want to sit on one’s front step smoking cannabis in public.”

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