Amsterdam, a city known for its rich history, stunning canals, and iconic museums, also holds a unique reputation in the realm of cannabis. It’s not uncommon for visitors, whether they’re from Africa or any other part of the world, to be intrigued by the city’s coffee shops. However, the situation isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Here’s what you should know.
When you hear the term “coffeeshop” in Amsterdam, it’s not about coffee. Instead, these establishments cater to those seeking marijuana. This terminology arose during the 1970s, a period of prohibition against overt promotion of marijuana. Interestingly, the very first among these, Mellow Yellow, started as a tea house.
Surprisingly for many, cannabis isn’t legal in the Netherlands. But then, how do these coffee shops operate? Enter the Dutch “policy of tolerance” or gedoogbeleid.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as drug use escalated worldwide, the Dutch initially took a stringent stance. But with time, opinions shifted. The emphasis moved towards distinguishing between “soft” and “hard” drugs and prioritizing individual freedom concerning health and personal choices.
This sentiment resonated with the 1972 Baan Committee report which argued that the societal damage from criminalizing marijuana outweighed any benefits. The result? The Dutch embraced a more lenient approach, allowing personal freedom while regulating certain drug distributions and usage.
In essence, while selling soft drugs in coffee shops is deemed illegal, the Public Prosecutor’s Service turns a blind eye. Furthermore, the average person isn’t pursued possessing small amounts of “soft drugs”.
Key guidelines include
- A limit of 5 grams of cannabis for personal possession.
- No cultivation of more than five cannabis plants.
Interestingly, although cultivating a small number of marijuana plants for personal use is allowed, authorities can still confiscate these plants. However, no legal repercussions follow.
Coffeeshops too have their own set of rules:
- Ensure no disturbances.
- No selling of hard drugs.
- Prohibit sales to minors.
- No drug advertising.
- Maximum of 5 grams of cannabis per transaction.
However, a gray area persists. If individuals can only possess 5g at any given time, how do coffee shops manage their inventory? Typically, coffee shop owners are allowed to stock up to 500 grams. The origins of their supplies, however, remain shrouded in mystery due to the legal constraints.
Potentially facing severe repercussions if caught, like the Checkpoint coffeeshop owner Meddie Willemsen in 2010, they have to be cautious. Willemsen faced a hefty fine and imprisonment after being caught with excessive marijuana.
Another interesting fact: while tobacco smoking indoors is a no-go in Amsterdam, cannabis isn’t. However, since 2008, blending it with tobacco has been a strict no.
One might wonder why the Netherlands still upholds such a puzzling mix of rules. It seems external pressures play a part. There’s a concern that if the Netherlands fully legalizes cannabis cultivation, it might become Europe’s marijuana export hub.
An initiative known as the “weed pass” was introduced around 2012. Primarily for the southern parts of the country, this pass limited marijuana purchases to Dutch citizens. However, this wasn’t received well, likely due to the mandatory registration at coffee shops. Ironically, illegal street sales saw a surge in cities mandating this pass.
While the weed pass isn’t a requirement as of 2018, Amsterdam has seen the introduction of newer regulations, like keeping coffee shops at a minimum distance from schools.
A Traveler’s Guide to Amsterdam’s Coffeeshops
Know the Difference: Cafe vs. Coffeeshop
When you’re wandering the streets of Amsterdam, don’t mistake a “cafe” for a “coffeeshop”. If it’s coffee and pastries you’re after, head to a cafe. However, if you’re looking to purchase cannabis, then a coffee shop is your destination. Remember, the distinction isn’t just about vocabulary; it’s about what you can expect to find inside.
Limit Your Purchase
You might be excited about your visit, but remember, there’s a legal limit to how much cannabis you can buy at once. Ensure you purchase no more than 5 grams in a single transaction. This is both for your safety and to stay within the boundaries of the Dutch Gedoogbeleid policy.
You must be at least 18 years old to enter a coffee shop in Amsterdam. Always have a valid form of identification on you, as you might be asked to show it before entering. Remember, even if you are of legal age in your home country to consume cannabis, the rules might be different in the Netherlands.
While it’s legal to purchase and consume cannabis inside a coffee shop, it’s not acceptable to use it publicly throughout the city. If you decide to partake, do so within the confines of the coffee shop or in a private setting. Respect the city, its residents, and other tourists.
Understand the Tolerance Policy
It’s essential to understand that while the sale and consumption of cannabis in coffee shops are tolerated, it’s technically illegal. This “policy of tolerance” or gedoogbeleid allows these shops to operate under specific guidelines. As a traveler, your primary concern should be to follow the rules set for consumers.
Mixing Tobacco and Cannabis
If you’re accustomed to mixing tobacco with cannabis, take note: smoking tobacco indoors in public places, including coffee shops, is prohibited in the Netherlands. Make sure to ask the staff if you’re uncertain about any house rules related to smoking.
Ask Questions If Unsure
The staff at the coffee shops are used to tourists and are typically knowledgeable and approachable. If you’re unsure about a particular strain, potency, or any other concerns, don’t hesitate to ask. They can guide you, ensuring you have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Remember International Boundaries
While you might enjoy the freedom of purchasing cannabis in Amsterdam, remember that traveling back to your home country with any amount of it is illegal. Before you depart, ensure you don’t have any leftover products in your possession.
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