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Gedogen — illegal but not illegal

Tolerance policy in the Netherlands

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Last Updated: April 12, 2023

Gedogen 1 is a Dutch verb that cannot be properly translated.

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

Gedogen is used for a situation or activity that technically is illegal, but actively tolerated by the government — since everyone knows that the problem (e.g., the sale and use of soft drug use) cannot be abolished by law.

In short, gedogen is used for something that is strictly speaking illegal under the law, but is not considered illegal in practice — as long as certain conditions and guidelines are met.

Go ahead: read that again.

Did you follow that? Welcome to the Netherlands!

Cannabis cafe's known as coffeeshops in Amsterdam
In Amsterdam cannabis cafe’s are known as ‘coffeeshops.’ Customers can legally buy and use soft drugs here — a prime example of the Netherland’s tolerance policy.

Coffeeshops – Prime Example of the Dutch Tolerance Policy

The infamous cannabis cafés (generally referred to as ‘coffeeshops‘) in the Netherlands are a prime example of this tolerance policy.

Here you can legally buy and consume weed and hash. [Check these coffeeshop tours, by the way]

Technically, however, it is illegal for a coffeeshop to buy hashish and marijuana. As the saying goes, “The front door is legal, but the back door is illegal.”

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

Note: the Dutch term Gedoogbeleid means tolerance policy. Tolerance policy is the policy of an administrative body not to prosecute violations of a particular law.

See also: Why is Amsterdam so tolerant?

More Amsterdam Tourist Information


  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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