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Gedogen — illegal but not illegal

Gedogen1 is a Dutch verb that cannot be properly translated.

It roughly means “tolerated,” but in a wider and different sense of the word.

The word 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 used in reference to something that is strictly speaking illegal according to the law, but not considered illegal in practice — as long as certain conditions and guidelines are met.

Go ahead: read that again.

Are you with me? Welcome to the Netherlands!

Cannabis plant and seeds on sale in Amsterdam

Cannabis seeds on sale during a ‘free market’ in Amsterdam

Prime example: coffeeshops — where soft drugs can legally be bought and used.

Technically, however, it is illegal for a coffeeshop to buy soft drugs. As the saying goes, “the front door is legal, but the back door is illegal.”

That it happens anyway is one of those peculiar contradictions that make ‘gedogen’ necessary.


Gedoogbeleid = policy of gedogen.
Gedoogverklaring = toleration declaration.

arrow See also: Why is Amsterdam so tolerant?


  1. The g in dutch is pronounced so that you make roughly the sound of clearing your throat. It is the same sound as the Scottish loch. Try and pronounce gedogen as ‘chuh-dough-chuhn.’
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This post was last updated: Jan. 14, 2015