Before states began relaxing restrictions on the sale and use of marijuana, before stores such as The Bud Farmacy opened in Needles, California, marijuana enthusiasts viewed Amsterdam, Netherlands as nirvana. But are the stories about coffee shops and the public smoking of marijuana mere urban legend? The answer is yes, and no.
Amsterdam locals generally associate the “coffeeshop” with bad coffee and marijuana. The people behind counter may be Dutch but the majority of customers are tourists. Locals seldom visit these shops as they are in touristy areas of the city such as the Red Light District. In essence many are simply tourist traps that cater to travelers that believe the urban legends.
This is but one surprise for the Amsterdam visitor. Growing weed is actually illegal in the Netherlands. There is, however, a tolerance from the legal system. You may grow a few plants for your own personal use with minimal risk. But large scale growing on a mass scale for sale or distribution will incur prosecution. As a result, many coffee shop owners hire buyers, wholesalers, to purchase marijuana. And a coffee shop is only allowed to have 500g on the premises. This results in an interesting grey area.
If you purchase legalized marijuana for recreational use at a reputable firm such as The Bud Farmacy in the United States. potency and THC content is divulged. In the Netherlands there is no regulating body to verify strain or potency, or control what is sold.
In most coffeeshops the customer has a variety of options. Primarily there is marijuana, marijuana mixed with tobacco or marijuana mixed with hashish oil and tobacco. And you have the option of buying the product loose for individual rolling or to smoke in a pipe. There are also pre-rolled options. And many shops will sell marijuana to go in amounts of 5g or less.
Here is another surprise. Technically smoking marijuana in Amsterdam is not legal. But seldom is there prosecution if a law-abiding citizen is not causing a public disturbance and does not have more possession of than 5g. The other caveat is that smoking in Amsterdam is only allowed in select areas.
When visiting another country there are protocols, customs, and simple signs of respect that are often different than those we are familiar with. A coffee shop in Amsterdam specializes in marijuana but they also often sell pastries, coffee and soft drinks. Typically the marijuana counter is at the front of the shop. Usually a menu will be offered. And most coffeeshops offer seating at the front of the store with a street view as well as a private room. Some offer a patio as many restaurants and taverns also offer outdoor seating.
The bottom line is this, don’t travel to the Netherlands just for the coffee shops. Travel to the Netherlands for the people, the history, the culture, the good food and the memorable experience. And beware of urban legends.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America