Upon their return home from Amsterdam many tourists recount colourful stories of how they ‘accidentally’ visited a coffeeshop (just like they ‘innocently stumbled into’ the infamous Red Light District).
If you don’t want to make the same mistake – or conversely, if you do – pay attention:
- Coffeeshop (or koffieshop)
A place where you can legally buy soft drugs (marijuana or hashish), space cakes, coffee, tea, and sometimes freshly-squeezed juices and sandwiches. In the past some coffeeshops also served alcohol.All coffeeshops display a green-and-white sign at the entrance, usually along with their license plus notices declaring that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to enter.
- Koffie Huis (‘Coffee House’) Koffiebar, Koffiesalon, anything with the word ‘koffie’ or ‘coffee’ or ‘espresso’ — but without the green-and-white sign
Same as above, minus the soft drugs.
- Koffietent, Koffie spot, Koffie Hotspot, et cetera
Terms coffee establishments generally don’t use to refer to themselves. Used by reviewers to avoid confusion with coffeeshops.
Basically, if it’s coffee you’re after, you’ve got plenty of choice. Amsterdammers have a love affair with coffee, so you’ll find countless specialty koffiehuizen. [Mind you, we’re clearly not referring to Starbucks.]
If it’s artisan coffee you’re after, look for names like “Bocca Coffee,” “Screaming Beans,” “Lot Sixty One,” “Two for Joy,” “Koko,” “De Koffie Salon,” and lots more — including our favorite: Al Ponte.
Most cafes and pubs also serve a good cup of coffee. Small wonder, the Dutch are the world’s biggest coffeedrinkers, and we demand quality coffee.
Trust us, it’s not likely that you accidentally walk into a ‘coffeeshop’ that has cannabis products on sale.
Just look for the green and white sign. Not there? Go get a cup!
Good coffee can also be had at most so-called coffeeshops (usually written as one word), but the emphasis in these establishments is on cannabis-related products — which you can legally purchase and use on the spot.
After all, this is Amsterdam, Holland – a place where pragmatism rules. Like so:
- You can legally buy and use soft drugs at coffeeshops. (Note: you can have so-called ‘personal amounts’ of up to 5 gram on you without getting in trouble with the law).
- The coffeeshops are licensed to sell you the goods.
- Technically, it is not legal for people to supply the coffeeshops with soft drugs, nor is it legal for coffeeshops to purchase the stuff. [Yes, this convoluted approach was thought up by politicians. No, we don’t know what they’re smoking]
- However, the authorities tolerate this system because it works…
By the way, A 2007 report by Amsterdam’s Department for Research and Statistics showed that 26% of tourists who stayed in Amsterdam for at least one night visited a coffeeshop. Ten percent said this was a primary reason to visit the city.
Visit a Coffeeshop
Visiting a coffeeshop is legal, safe and fun — whether or not you smoke what’s on offer.
The Cultural Ganja Walking Tour of Selected Coffee Shops is a great experience. The knowledgeable, local guide will show you where to get the best ganja, what kind of weed to buy, how to roll a joint, and how the whole coffeeshop phenomenon fits into Dutch culture.
The Drug Policy Alliance writes:
A key aspect of Dutch drug policy is the notion of market separation. By classifying drugs according to the risks posed and then pursuing policies that serve to isolate each market, it is felt that users of soft drugs are less likely to come into contact with users of hard drugs.
Thus, the theory goes, users of soft drugs are less likely to try hard drugs. Possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use has been decriminalized in the Netherlands.
The sale of cannabis is technically an offence under the Opium Act, but prosecutorial guidelines provide that proceedings will only be instituted in certain situations.
An operator or owner of a coffee shop (which is not permitted to sell alcohol) will avoid prosecution if he/she meets the following criteria:
- no more than 5 grams per person may be sold in any one transaction;
- no hard drugs may be sold;
- drugs may not be advertised;
- the coffee shop must not cause any nuisance;
- no drugs can be sold to minors (under age 18), nor may minors enter the premises; and
- the municipality has not ordered the establishment closed.
Separating the markets by allowing people to purchase soft drugs in a setting where they are not exposed to the criminal subculture surrounding hard drugs is intended to create a social barrier that prevents people experimenting with drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, drugs deemed an “unacceptable risk.”
Decriminalization of the possession of soft drugs for personal use and the toleration of sales in controlled circumstances has not resulted in a worryingly high level of consumption among young people. The extent and nature of the use of soft drugs does not differ from the pattern in other Western countries.
As for hard drugs, the number of addicts in the Netherlands is low compared with the rest of Europe and considerably lower than that in France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Dutch rates of drug use are lower than U.S. rates in every category.
– Source: Drug Policy Around The World: The Netherlands, Drug Policy Alliance
Do Not Buy From Street Dealers
Despite the easy availability of soft drugs in licensed coffeeshops, tourists are targeted by ‘street dealers.’
At best, those who buy ‘weed’ from them may discover they’ve paid for a mixture of chives and parsley with some cannabis scent added.
Worst, these criminals seldom, if ever, sell real drugs. They pills and powders they offer may contains washing powder, ground up aspirin or birth control pills, or seriously dangerous substances.
Those who fall for this tourist trap endanger themselves in other ways as well. Deals tend to take place in dark corners or alleys, where you can easily be robbed.
The best approach: Don’t make eye contact with street dealers. Don’t talk back. Simply ignore them.