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Mysterious After-Hours Shootings Target Amsterdam’s Coffeeshops

A series of shootings involving Amsterdam coffeeshops has stirred fear and unrest within the city’s famed cannabis community. In the last year, seven coffeeshops have struck by bullets—always fired after hours, when the businesses were closed.

No one so far has been injured in the shootings, and property damage has been minimal. The city’s response to such incidents, however, carries an existential threat. Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan has shuttered each and every coffeeshop that’s been fired at, usually for a period of three months. The response has raised concerns among some that municipal policy may be fueling an industry turf war.

A surveillance video of one attack shows a person on a scooter repeatedly trying to fire a handgun and eventually succeeding.

The mysterious attacks started in October 2015, but the frequency increased this fall, with two shootings in September and three in October. Then, in the early morning hours on Monday, several bullets were fired through the window of the Greenhouse Kitchen. The establishment is a restaurant that doesn’t sell cannabis, but it allows vaporizing and is located next door to a Greenhouse coffeeshop. No matter—Mayor Van der Laan didn’t hesitate. He had the place boarded up the same day.

Police have released a surveillance video of one attack, which shows a person on a scooter repeatedly trying to fire a handgun and eventually succeeding. Eyewitness reports of another attack involve a shooter on a bicycle. But the motives behind the shootings remain unknown, the subject of wild speculation. Is it extortion or a way to force coffeeshops to buy their cannabis from certain producers? Could other coffeeshops be behind the shootings, trying to eliminate competitors? Have anti-cannabis advocates happened across a simple way to shutter the storefronts?

The Amsterdam-based newspaper Het Parool reported that, according to police research, “several gunmen were involved who probably have very different motives.” The rumor that a lone-wolf coffeeshop opponent is behind the attacks “is clearly not true,” the report said, and “in most cases it’s not extortion or conflicts with suppliers.”

The city’s coffeeshops have offered a €25,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest of the shooter or shooters. Some have hired private security firms to patrol the shops outside business hours. On Nov. 2, an emergency meeting was held between the mayor, the police, and representatives of the coffeeshops. Bas Bruijn, a spokesperson for the mayor, told Leafly that while the city, police, and coffeeshops have been in “constant contact,” the meeting this week “was the first time that the mayor was present.”

Leafly: What came out of the meeting? 

Bas Bruijn: The mayor, the police and several representatives of the coffeeshops took part in the discussion. All parties have put their concerns on the table and agreed to continue the discussion on very short notice.

Why does the mayor automatically close the coffeeshops that are shot? Is it seen as the shops’ fault?

Closure is the responsibility of the mayor, based on public order and safety. So it’s not who’s fault it is or what the cause. … A closure is always based on police information and aims to eliminate the serious disturbance of public order, create peace in the neighborhood, and warrant the safety of the visitors and the staff of the coffeeshop.

What if a shooter wants to shut down that coffeeshop? Doesn’t this policy mean the mayor could be unknowingly acting as the enforcer for the offenders?

The police indicate that they remain open to all scenarios. As I said, the mayor closes down an establishment based on public order. Shootings in residential areas have great impact on the residents’ sense of security. The sole purpose of the closure is to prevent recurrence and to bring back the peace in the neighborhood.

The latest victim, coffeeshop Speak Easy, has not been closed yet. Its owner has stated that he “might be the tipping point” that compels the city to rethink its policy. Is that correct?

When we decide to close, we consider each case individually. The decision in this case has not been made yet, but we will make it soon.

A lot of coffeeshops in Amsterdam have been closed in recent years, and some media have reported that the city’s coffeeshops can’t cope with the large number of visitors. Another fifteen coffeeshops are slated for closure. Will the mayor continue with these closures?

A possible relation with the number of coffeeshops is speculation. The decision to close down coffeeshops is independent of these shooting incidents. The 15 coffeeshops you mention must close on the basis of the distance criterion [which limits coffeeshops’ locations relative to schools]. This is part of an agreement with the minister of justice to not enforce the residency criterion, or weedpass, in Amsterdam. The introduction of this measure would have had far-reaching consequences, because tourists would no longer have been able to buy soft drugs in the coffeeshops.