Amsterdam's relaxed policy towards the legal availability of high quality weed and hash is common knowledge all over the world. but the word coffeeshop in Amsterdam means something totally different to what coffee shop means in any other country around the world. The Dutch join the two words together (coffeeshop) and it takes on an entire new meaning. A coffeeshop in Amsterdam is not just your average coffee shop.
These places vary in size and style but not all sell coffee even though most have coffee for sale as their primary purpose is the selling of cannabis & hash. All of them are licensed by the Amsterdam city council and subject to numerous regulations and more so all the time, latest one being a coffee shop cannot advertise including having a website though some still have them but without much information on them the rest have removed their sites.
To gain entry to a coffeeshop you must be a minimum 18 years old and you must produce ID even if your not buying drugs so you can stay on the premises.
There are at present around some 300 licensed coffeeshops in Amsterdam but the number is half what it was 10 years ago and
the 70 odd bar / coffeeshops which sold alcohol and cannabis known as cannabis cafes are almost all gone with one or two only left and very soon they must also decide if they are a bar or a coffeeshop, new law says they cannot be both. Remaining ones are Nescafe in Nes lane off Dam Square and the Dampkring where Oceans eleven was filmed.
The average price of a small bag (1 gram) runs approximately Euro 6-8. For you Americans that have no idea what a gram is, a "dime bag" is typically about half a gram. Some places offer pre-rolled joints of pure grass for around Euro 7 or grass and hash joints mixed with tobacco Euro 3-4.
You are allowed to bring grass from one Coffeeshop to another as long as you purchase something to drink in each coffeeshop. Smoking outside on the terraces is now Not allowed by some owners and smoking in public is generally O.K. just don't be blatant about it.
Smoking grass in other bars and places is a "no no", The staff will quickly inform you to put the joint out.
A few coffee shops still sell space-cake. They can come in the form of cookies, brownies or a slice of cake with hash or bud in them or a cup of special tea made with cannabis. Unfortunately the government is also trying to stop this as well because of the imprecise and inconsistent THC content of cake found at some careless shops. The best cake available can be found at BASJOE coffee shop know as Rainbow cake because of the colour's which run through each slice. Cake is home made by James and tastes delicious, problem is you will want another slice but a little word of warning, do not go crazy, give the 1st slice time to work. If can pack quite a punch but it may not really hit you for an hour or two so if you eat 2 slices you will be totally f....d
When you enter most coffeeshops just go up to the bar and ask to see the 'menu'. You will be presented with a list of the various different grasses and hashes available at a range of prices. Some coffeeshops have a dealer's booth which is usually separate from the main counter.
Most shops sell by weight, in others by the bag. Where it is sold by weight the prices are per gram. There are 28 grams in an ounce (The Gray Area, which is run by an American dude will actually sell 'quarters' and 'eighths' if you want). Where it is sold by value, the menu will show the quantity, in grams, that you'll get of each variety for a fixed price of, say, 20 euros.
A maximum of 5 grams per sale is allowed. You will NOT be sold more than this amount so do not bother asking. They are scared of loosing there licence if they are caught.
Cannabis prices vary according to shop location and type. In the centre of Amsterdam prices tend to be a little higher especially in places that cater for tourists - that includes both rip-off joints and connoisseur's shops.
A typical coffeeshop menu will read something like this.
Thai € 4 per gram Moroccan € 5.00
Skunk € 5 per gram Ice Hash € 15 - 25 a gram
Super Skink € 7.50 per gram Nepalese € 10.00 a gram
Northern Lights € 7 per gram Certain other types can cost up to €45 a gram
White Widow € 7 per gram
AK47 € 7-8 per gram
Silver Haze € 7-8 per gram.
The Law as it stands at present.
Cannabis is officially still illegal in Holland and the situation with regard to selling soft drugs is quite complicated and with International treaties precluding the Netherlands from legalising cannabis, even if they wanted to the situation is crazy.
Only when you buy if over the counter in a coffeeshop does it become.legal-ish. It is illegal to grow more than five plants but possession of a small quantity is considered to be a misdemeanor rather than a criminal offence.
In practice, the possession of up to 30 grams (about an ounce) is permitted. You can only buy 5 grams at a time in a coffee shop but nothing is stopping you going to several coffeeshops and buying 5 grams in each one, if stopped by a police man you could be asked to explain where you got it but very unlikely. "I'm a heavy smoker officer"
Regulations for coffee shops include:
1.No advertising including web sites.
2.No exporting / Mail Order outside of the Netherlands.
3.strictly no hard drugs on premises (Cocaine, Etc)
4.A maximum sale of 5 grams sold to each customer.
5.A maximum of 500 grams of stock on the premises at any time.
6. Strictly no sales to minors (Under 18)
The 500 gram stock regulation is used by the authorities as a excuse for the ever increasing raids on the coffee shops to keep an eye on them. When they do raid they come in force, loads of police and dogs. They seal off the shop letting no one leave or enter, even off the terrace.
The coffeeshop began in the early 1970's. Even then, realising the war on drugs was lost and was a total waste of money and police time so as the Dutch do with very other problem they face, instead of sweeping it under the carpet like other governments they sit down and discuss the problem with everyone which includes all the political parties to find a way of solving the problem, in this case educing the impact of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine on Dutch society. So this is how the coffeeshop was born, a way of separating soft and hard drugs this way the police could concentrate all their efforts on fighting the dealers and pushers of the harder drugs.
Anyone addicted to hard drugs would be treated as sick, like alcoholics; and those in possession of cannabis were to be ignored. Amsterdam today has many needle exchanges around the city and help centre's for anyone addicted to drugs. Drug addicts are not looked down on but are helped if they want help.
The first coffeeshops did not have an easy time of it and were. They were constantly raided and closed but they just kept opening up again and again.
Some debate surrounds who opened the very first coffeeshop but without dough the most famous was certainly The Bulldog which opened in 1975 by a guy called Henk de Vries who who's family ran several brothels in the Red Light district. He now has several coffeeshops as well as a hotel and other tourist related businesses.
In 1976 with coffeeshops springing up all over the place the government took the first steps to decriminalise cannabis. The law was changed so that the possession of cannabis for personal use was no longer a criminal offence.
1976 to 1980 saw an ever increasing number of coffeeshops and from 1980 Dutch people started to except them (Initially, most Dutch people disapproved) but over the years a policy of "tolerance' A Dutch Thing, they tolerate everything instead of banning.
By 1995 Amsterdam had over 700 coffeeshops and and with some selling hard drugs and huge international pressure from Germany, France, Belgium and other neighboring countries they decided that drastic action was required.
Meantime the more clever and better organised coffeeshops started to organise themselves a union called the BCD (Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten). After long talks between the city council and themselves an agreement was reached.
It was decided that the number of coffeeshops would be halved and the remaining ones would
be licensed and no more licences would be issued and the remaining ones would be made non-transferable making sure the number would decrease over time.
A special coffeeshop sign was issued to all licensed shops and must be displayed (see above)
to show that they are licensed to sell cannabis.
The last two governments in power have been very right wing and have forced local councils to strictly enforce regulations by closing any shops that do not abide by the strict regulations and once closed you loose the licence which are not replaced, resulting in the number containing to diminish year after year.
From the beginning coffeeshops mainly dealt in hash imported from places like morocco and Grass imported from Thailand and Jamaica but over the years the Dutch have become experts at growing so nowadays it's mainly Dutch grown grass which is sold in most if not all the coffeeshops.
The famous 'skunk' which originated in America. When it was introduced into the Netherlands, the more relaxed environment and endemic Dutch horticultural skills led to this variety being further improved and is now know as 'Super Skunk' but which Netherlands weather the way it is it's not the best of places to be growing marijuana but with the use of state of the art artificial lighting growing indoors has become very advanced indeed.
With still over 300 coffeeshops still in Amsterdam it takes a lot of plants to keep them stocked. But as growing is still totally illegal, the places where it's grown is top secret and the police are always on the look out for growing rooms or plant farms. In the last year the police have teamed up with Neon (The electricity company) who report on any premises which is using a larger amount of power then is normal.
Growing up to 5 marijuana plants in your home for personal use is, effectively, legal.