Ah, Amsterdam. Often you will get the sticky sweet smell of a joint as you walk around town. A visit to Amsterdam is generally associated with a visit to a coffeeshop. Not always, but generally. Here is some information about coffeeshops, the culture, the law, and the changing situation. The Netherlands used to be one of the only places in the world you could walk around smoking a joint and not worry about being arrested. It seems this tolerant situation is finally spreading to the rest of the world. The war on drugs has become ‘the sensible war on not all drugs’.
The World Legalises
Firstly, many of the US states have fully legalised growth and sale, Canada, Uruguay, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland to name just a few. So does that mean going to Amsterdam to get stoned is less of a pull factor than it used to be? Certainly and in many ways the timing is good as Amsterdam wanted to lose that image anyway.
Secondly, while this situation of tolerance has been in place for the coffeeshops in Amsterdam, cultivation of cannabis and supplying the coffee shops was always illegal. That paradox is about to end though, as the government is to start growing weed and supplying the coffeeshops. The government hopes that this will create 2 big benefits :
- To earn large amounts of new revenue for the government.
- To break the supply stranglehold the criminal gangs have at the moment. This will be important. Billions of euros are earned by the drug trade. If funds lots of other nefarious activities.
10 municipalities will soon start the cultivation experiment. It is interesting to note that 26 applied in total. It will be a good revenue source.
Coffeeshops back in the day.
People would not recognise old Amsterdam if they could travel back in time. It was so different. The 60’s were over and Amsterdam was a peace and love place with a reputation for tolerance. Artists from across the world flooded to Amsterdam. In the ’70s the drug laws changed and the possession of small amounts of cannabis was no longer a police issue. So too was smoking it in certain cafés known as coffeeshops. Over time an industry sprung up. Nowadays the ‘industry’ has tight regulations. Amsterdam has lost roughly half of its coffeeshops in the last decade. The oldest one, ‘Mellow Yellow’ was forced to close due to new laws banning coffee shops within 250 metres of a school.
You cannot buy alcohol in a coffeeshop. Many have a range of delicious drinks and foods for you to enjoy. Rules for the owner include:
- A maximum of 5 grams per person may be sold at any one time.
- No hard drugs allowed for sale or consumption
- Absolutely no advertising drugs
- No nuisance in or around the coffee shop tolerated.
- Over 18’s only
No Smoking bans
Since the implementation of the smoking ban in the Netherlands in July 2008, it’s technically illegal to include tobacco in a cannabis cigarette. Further new laws in February 2018 banned Separate Smoking Spaces (SSS). It remains unclear at the moment how this will affect coffee shops. Only 10 percent of coffee shop users do not use tobacco. Everyone else adds tobacco to their joints.
Amsterdam has the highest number of coffee shops in the country. A coffee shop operates just the same as any other legal business. Well almost, as it cannot provide invoices from suppliers. It is exempt from some normal business administration.
The ministry is responsible for combating drugs trafficking. It is focused on stopping the drugs trade by the large organised gangs. There are clear and written differences between hard and soft drugs. Hard drugs include heroin and cocaine. Soft drugs have a policy of gedoogbeleid, tolerance. You can carry 5g of grass on your person and to home grow up to 5 plants.
The Netherlands has one of the lowest per capita death rates due to drug consumption.
It also is often the source of production for synthetic drugs such as ecstasy and methamphetamines. These are not for sale in Coffeeshops in Amsterdam. The police are raiding drug labs all the time, often in farms in the middle of nowhere. A lot of drugs are also arriving in Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port.
The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.
The attitude of the ministry to coffee shops in Amsterdam is a pragmatic one. Evidence suggests that tough repression does not work. You just drive problems underground where they are even harder to deal with. The ministry advocates dealing with the issues with proven curative methods.
The policy has three main objectives:
- Protect and preserve public health
- Eliminate public nuisance, because that helps everyone enjoy life more.
- To eliminate drug-related problems.
You can see this in action. In the 80s and 90s, the streets were full of dealers trying to sell their wares to tourists. This has effectively disappeared. Perhaps not entirely, but almost.
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