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Amsterdam hash cafes must choose: soft drugs or alcohol

As of Sunday, April 1, 2007 — and this is no April Fools joke — Amsterdam’s hash cafes must make a difficult choice: either sell alcohol or soft drugs, but not both.

In the Netherlands, so-called coffeeshops (or coffee shops) are establishments where you can legally buy and use soft drugs, along with coffee, (and often) fruit juices and health food.

Nationwide these coffeeshops are not allowed to serve alcohol. Throughout Holland, hash cafes ceased to exist 11 years ago.

However, in Amsterdam, 44 hash-cafes — which sold both soft drugs and alcohol — had been allowed to continue under that typically Dutch approach known as “gedogen.”

Gedogen is a Dutch verb that cannot be properly translated. It roughly means ‘tolerated,’ but in a wider and different sense of the word. It is used of a situation or activity that technically is illegal, but which is actively tolerated as a matter of government policy — since everyone knows the issue (say, prostitution or the use of soft drugs, can not be legislated away). In short, gedogen is something that is illegal, but not illegal. Welcome to Holland…

Many of Amsterdam’s rulers, headed by popular mayor Job Cohen, actually asked the central government to continue granting Amsterdam the exception to keep tolerating the hash cafes. The central government turned down the request.

Of the 44 hash cafes in Amsterdam, 37 have decided to continue as coffeeshops, while 7 will convert to pubs.

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This post was last updated: Sep. 25, 2011