Amsterdam: Drive-By Shootings & Coffee Shop Closures – Decline of an Empire?

Roxy, October 2015, De Kroon 3, January 2016, The Power, February & May 2016, DNA, May & September 2016, Green Place, September 2016, Blue Lagoon, October 2016, Vondel, October 2016, Greenhouse Kitchen, October 2016…

What do these Amsterdam coffee shops have in common? Over the last year or so, they have all been closed “indefinitely” due to incidents involving gunfire. No-one has been seriously injured, although one customer was slightly wounded by shattering glass. Incidents have mostly taken place late at night, while shops were closed.

It is still not clear why the shootings occurred. Theories include: Corrupt government officials attempting to close coffee shops; Rival coffeeshop owners/gangs trying to eliminate competition; Extortion rackets turning to violence when demands were unmet; A personal or political vendetta held by a lone gunman.

Amsterdam is no stranger to drug-related gang violence – an ongoing feud over missing cocaine has claimed up to 14 lives since 2014. In March 2016, the severed head of one gang member was found on the sidewalk outside a cafe in Amsterdam’s Zuidoost.

No official source has connected the coffeeshop shootings with this criminal underworld, but rumors persist. The clumsy and corrupt “backdoor policy” employed in the Netherlands keeps coffee shops firmly in contact with the black market. Since the 1970s, when the first coffee shops opened, there is an almost continuous record of gangland involvement in the industry.

However, the Amsterdam Union of Cannabis Retailers believes that the recent shootings are nothing to do with eliminating competition, as coffee shops have been closed en masse by the authorities in recent years.

Coffeeshop owners are also unconvinced by the extortion argument. One coffeeshop owner stated to Dutch news channel AT5: “We have no problems with our suppliers, nobody is blackmailing us. Moreover, everybody knows fine well who we do business with. Who’s to say this isn’t the work of some psychopath?”

Clearly, there is doubt remaining over the person or persons responsible for the shootings. Coffeeshop owners have now hired security, installed extra CCTV and banded together to offer a €25,000 reward for information.

Interestingly, just before Christmas mayor Eberhard van der Laan overturned the closures, provided that coffee shops adhered to a set of enhanced security measures. All but one coffeeshop has now reopened, and for now, the shootings seem to have stopped – but it seems that no-one except the shooter or shooters themselves know what really happened.

Dope Magazine spoke with the owner of the respected Amsterdam coffeeshop Eerste Hulp to find out his opinion on exactly what’s going on.

DOPE Magazine: What’s the current situation right now? 

Eerste Hulp Coffeeshop: It’s blown over because almost all coffee shops now have enforced security, armed security guards patrolling the area, and a reward on offer. There are between 32 and 36 coffee shops involved – it’s a collective action.

Q: Are the shootings simply a means of eliminating competition?

A: I have no real clue, but it’s not likely to be about eliminating competition. As others have said, we are already busy enough because of the hundreds of closures over the years. Any more customers and we won’t be able to cope!

Q: Has your coffee shop experienced any shooting incidents?

A: No…Thank God, no!

Q: Is there a deeper connection to the Amsterdam “gangland” underworld?

A: No, absolutely not. No link to the “underworld”. I know most of the coffee shop owners involved and that’s just not a theory that has any substance.

Q: Could it just be a lone gunman with a vendetta? What could the motive be?

A: It could well be just one psychopath. Right now it seems like a good possibility!

Q: Is it a plan to discredit the coffee shops by a political faction? 

A: I wouldn’t dismiss it entirely, but I don’t think there’s any substance to the theory. The politicians have already done a lot of damage – in 1992, there were 2500 legal selling points for cannabis in Amsterdam. Now, we’re down to 150. I mean, they would never destroy the movement even if they put us down to 50 coffee shops. But right now, we coffee shop owners are a dying breed.

Q: What’s your opinion on the mayor’s decision to overturn the closures?

A: Definitely a good thing – the right thing to do. The guy was making us all targets. When does it stop? When all the coffee shops are closed? If anything, the mayor’s big mistake has always been to close down coffee shops.

Q: So you don’t think it was a calculated move to ensure tax revenues over the Christmas period, one of the busiest times of the year?

A: I don’t believe so. That logic hasn’t stopped him closing down hundreds of coffee shops year on year. If it was just about profit and taxes, they’d never close a coffee shop.

Q: What does the future hold for the Amsterdam coffee shops, and do you think these shootings could have any long-term consequences?

A: Well, a lot is riding on the results of the upcoming elections in March. You know Geert Wilders? Geert Wilders (note: a notorious right-wing, anti-immigration politician) is now leading the polls – and he supports the closure of more coffee shops. This is bound to have way more influence than this situation with the shootings, and could threaten the existence of every remaining coffee shop.

So the shootings, although puzzling, will most likely turn out to be a minor incident in overall terms. Less than two weeks after the final incident, a 23-year-old male suspect was arrested in connection with the shootings, but no further information has been released since then. In coming months, more information on the shootings and their motives may come to light – but for now, it remains a mystery.