The Netherlands is famous for its fields of tulips, delicious cheese, and wooden clogs. However, nothing is as popular as Dutch coffeeshops. Every year, millions of tourists from all over the world visit Amsterdam to see, buy, and try the famous Dutch weed. It may seem that the Netherlands is a real heaven for cannabis lovers. But it is not so simple.
The relationship between Dutch people and cannabis is a bit more complicated than it might seem from the other side of the Atlantic. It may look like the Netherlands is the sacred land where cannabis can be bought everywhere and users can sit in the city center and smoke a high-quality joint. You can even think that any volunteer can grow cannabis at home and get money for this agricultural experience. But let us have a closer look at how the things are in the land of tulips and cheese in real life. Let us dispel some myths about the situation with cannabis in the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, it is true. Once you get to De Wallen, the red-light district in Amsterdam, it looks like in this town, everything is possible and everything is allowed. The reality is that most of the things are still beyond the law, but they are tolerated anyway. The same goes for cannabis.
Technically, it is legal only to consume marijuana, the rest can cost you a fine. If you are a tourist and you sit with your friends inside, for instance, The Bulldog coffeeshop, smoking joints, dabbing, or trying a majestic spacecake with chocolate and hash, you have nothing to be afraid of. But once you go outside, be prepared for the police to frisk you. From time to time, it is a common practice for local police officers to go on a raid and confiscate cannabis from everyone who looks suspicious. Even if you have just bought the joint in a coffeeshop and just made a few steps outside the store, even if your possessions are significantly less than five grams of marijuana, even if you are not going to sell it or give it to anyone else, the police have the right to take your herb away and fine you.
Moreover, the Dutch rules are so ridiculous that they allow the police to confiscate the marijuana that you grow at home even if you are allowed to do so. Five years ago, the authorities changed the law, and now everyone who meets more than two criteria from the list (for instance, if you grow three plants and you have growing light and ventilation; or if you have “selected seeds” and a growing box) is considered to be a professional grower. If you want to grow cannabis for your own use, do it naturally, without any equipment, or apply to the authorities for a license for growing it professionally.
And do not expect your neighbors to cover for you. Average Dutch people do not always tolerate cannabis consumers.
In fact, most of Dutch people have never even tried marijuana. If we take the proportion of Dutch citizens in the age between 15 and 64 years old, we will see that only 24.1 percent have tried marijuana at least once in their life. The number of users is even lower, as most of Dutch national residents tried it a couple of times when they were young and never smoked it again.
This number is incredible, especially if we compare it to other European countries where on average the number is 24.8 percent. Even in America, the number of people who have ever tried cannabis is about 43 percent.
The reason for such a low number of cannabis user lies in the status of cannabis. It does not appear as something tempting and “cool.” Since you can legally buy it if you want to, marijuana does not look so attractive anymore. Most people prefer to consume marijuana only for medical purposes over using it recreationally.
If we are talking about the attitude to consuming cannabis in the society, it would be more accurate to describe it with the word “condoned” (gedoogd in Dutch). People will probably say nothing if they see you smoking a joint, but they will ask their children not to come to you any closer. Back in 2008, around 85 percent of the Dutch population supported closing all coffeeshops nearby schools (within 250 meters). However, the same poll showed that 60 percent still thought that soft drugs should be legalized in the Netherlands.
American history of cannabis is much longer than that of the Netherlands. At the beginning of the XX century, marijuana did not play a significant role in the criminal life of the country. In 1919, cannabis became illegal in the Netherlands, but the cases of the drug use were rare simply because it was not popular.
In 1953, it became illegal to grow and possess marijuana, which caused debates in the society. With time, the issue of the drug was becoming more and more controversial. The number of arrests increased: in 1966, there were 74 cases associated with the drug, but three years later, there were already 544 cases.
In 1970, at the music festival in Rotterdam, the authorities decided to experiment and not arrest any cannabis user, although there were more than enough of them there. Surprisingly, no incidents happened. The festival atmosphere was relaxing and joyful.
That made the government change their opinion about cannabis. What if marijuana could be on the same law level as tobacco and alcohol? If it is not dangerous to the society, why should it be prohibited? Here, the commission used the example of the prohibition movement in the United States, when criminalizing alcohol initiated the creation of numerous large-scale and well-armed criminal syndicates. Obviously, that sounded convincing, and the government decided to decriminalize cannabis.
Once you arrive in Amsterdam, you dive into the central districts where almost every corner has one or several coffeeshops, sometimes situated door-to-door. It can make you think that the whole country is the same; however, it is far from the truth.
There are 433 municipalities in the Netherlands, and only 105 of them have one or more coffeeshops. Moreover, a third of all the coffeeshops is situated in the capital of the country, Amsterdam.
If you want to visit coffeeshops in big cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, den Haag, it will be easy to find them. Finding such a place in a smaller town can be tricky because it is well hidden. Also, you should be prepared that the shop assistant will not be able to serve you the goods: since 2012, tourists in small towns can be legally banned from entering coffeeshops.
Maybe twenty years ago, it was still okay, but not anymore. Even though it is legal to consume marijuana, not all bars or restaurants accept it. Some of them hang the sign “no-cannabis zone,” others will just politely ask you to put your joint out.
You may see lots of people smoking next to coffeeshops, sitting next to water channels, but as we have mentioned before, you risk to get a fine from the police.
The safest places are the coffeeshops (some of them look like usual stores, but others have tables and benches so you can spend time with your friends there) or private residences. If you use a hostel in Amsterdam, it is better to find out in advance whether they allow smoking on their territory to avoid a misunderstanding. Or you can use the Couchsurfing service to find some locals that will take you to nice smoking spots and show you around.