News & Politics

Muriel Bowser Said DC Would Not Be "Like Amsterdam." Now the Dutch Are Upset.

Legalized marijuana has stirred an international incident.

Amsterdam features robust bike infrastructure, charming canals, and absolutely no sense of humor. Photograph via Shutterstock.

On Tuesday, with the District on the cusp of legalizing the possession and home cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office published leaflets offering guidance to residents about the city’s new drug reform. A sheet containing several frequently asked questions attempted to spell out all the details of Initiative 71, from the amount of pot people are allowed to carry (not more than two ounces), to the number of plants residents are allowed to grow (six, only three of which can be mature), to where it can be consumed (private residences only, not in public, and definitely not on federally controlled land).

But then there’s this line: “Is DC going to become like Amsterdam?”

Comparing any jurisdiction that relaxes its marijuana laws to the Dutch capital is kneejerk and inevitable, but you know who doesn’t like it? The Dutch!

In a fact sheet of its own, the Embassy of the Netherlands is rebutting the Bowser administration’s dismissal of Amsterdam as a city swaddled by an unyielding fog of marijuana smoke.

“Mayor Muriel Bowser said this week that the District will not become ‘like Amsterdam,’ as though being ‘like Amsterdam’ would be a bad thing,” reads a press release from the Dutch Embassy.

The Dutch are also keen to point out that their marijuana laws—which are nationwide, not just restricted to the capital city—are more stringent than DC’s in some aspects and looser in others. While the Netherlands licenses cafés to sell weed along with coffees and pastries, there are strict limits on how much green a customer can buy and how much a store can have in stock. Alcohol is prohibited, as are minors, other drugs, and, per the press release any “nuisance.” Also banned from buying weed: foreigners, although local jurisdictions, like Amsterdam, are allowed to make this a low-priority enforcement issue. (In 2013, the Netherlands, responding to burdensome drug tourism along the Belgian and German borders, restricted marijuana purchases to Dutch residents only.) DC’s legalized-marijuana regime has no framework for a retail market, but it does allow possession of much larger amounts (five grams for the Dutch, compared to two ounces in DC).

But the Dutch aren’t ragging on Washington just over differences in weed policy. They’re also taking potshots at DC’s relative deficits of museums, bike lanes, canals, and—this one stings—streetcars.

DC vs Amsterdam

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.