Just when I thought the so-called “war on drugs” could not become any more incomprehensible, the Dutch are suddenly deciding to clamp down on their famously laid-back cannabis laws. Yes, the capital of the Netherlands, the one city in the world that seemingly has its head screwed on right in terms of the legalisation of weed, is now under threat.
After a handful of drug-related crimes occurred in the south of the country, the Dutch government began to question whether their relaxed attitude toward the sale of marijuana, in designated “coffee shops” around the country, was a good idea or not. They have now stated that, as of January 1st 2013, the buying of cannabis from Dutch coffee shops will be limited to Dutch residents only, who’ll need a “weed pass” in order to legally purchase anything.
The enforcement of this law inevitably does not allow the high majority of tourists who’ll visit Amsterdam to, amongst sight-seeing, just chill out and have a smoke. Surely such an upheaval of the tourism industry will severely affect things financially. Having visited Amsterdam just a couple of weeks ago, I can tell that over half of the visitors to these coffee shops aren’t Dutch. After visiting some of the most established coffee shops (such as 420, Grey Area, Hill Street Blues and Barney’s) it’s clear that these places aren’t the seedy hovels that many may perceive them to be. Since the 90s, coffee shops have only been allowed to serve non-alcoholic drinks, meaning the atmosphere is relaxed and chilled out, as opposed to a rowdy bar. Staff are cool and friendly, greeting you with a menu listing a range of cannabis choices – from Purple Haze to White Widow, to “Space Cakes” (yep – you got it – hash brownies). As someone who occasionally smokes but not often, I was pleasantly surprised when my boyfriend – a regular smoker – handed me a spliff in cafe 420 of some of best stuff I’d ever had. Smooth on your throat and similarly on your head, the weed in Amsterdam is a far cry from the overpriced “skunk” that we buy in London.
Ironically, statistics show that fewer people in the Netherlands smoke cannabis than both the UK and the USA. It’s clear that the attitude toward it, which is so grounded in Amsterdam’s culture, is far from posing a threat. There are around 250 coffee shops in Amsterdam, and it seems at least half serve marijuana. Surely the owners of these businesses won’t go without a fight, right? American musician Jonathan Foster, age 40, the founder of Grey Area which opened in 1995, told the Washington Post that, “The coffee shops became extensions of your living room, a place where you find a 65-year-old Brazilian lawyer talking to a 20-year-old American backpacker, both relaxed and open because they’re smoking weed.” After serving a range of celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson in his shop, the cannabis culture of the city is decidedly an amazing way to bring people together. “Nationalities mix, people bond. The idea that could go away is too much to imagine.”
Michael Veling, 56, owner of the 420 Cafe, insists that he is ready to disobey this “ridiculous law” which he is sure will only result in a re-emergence of the black market – not only of cannabis, but of the “weed passes” themselves. Even Amsterdam officials have spoken out against the law, so it seems that they will probably look the other way and continue to let these harmless business run peacefully, as they have done for the past 20 years. It’s hard to imagine the law coming into action anywhere near as soon as 2013. Apparently it took ten years before the official ban on simultaneous alcohol and marijuana sale came into effect. For such a radical change to come into action, as soon and as smoothly as the Dutch government is intending, is next to impossible. Nevertheless, tourists are now flocking to Amsterdam en masse to get what could be their last taste of what weed should really taste like…