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How will the July 1, 2008 smoking ban affect Amsterdam’s coffee shops?

DutchAmsterdam.nl — First this: On July 1, 2008, a smoking ban will come into effect in all horeca (hotel, restaurant, and catering) businesses in the Netherlands.

The smoking ban also extends to other indoor businesses, including airports, shopping malls, cinemas, sports arenas (but not while a retractable roof is open), discos, nightclubs, other music venues, and so on.

Coffee shops — those Dutch establishments where you primarily go in order to use cannabis — are subject to the same law as well. And, depending on what you smoke, that is both good and bad. More about that in a moment.

Coffeeshop Old Church, Amsterdam

Coffeeshop, Old Church, in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

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Designated smoking areas

Restaurants and other so-called ‘hospitality venues’ can set aside designated, enclosed areas where smoking is allowed.

However, in those areas, no service is provided. [Those who joke that, smoking ban or not, that has always been the case… stop it!]

In other words, if you want a drink or something to eat, you have to venture into the smoke-free zone, place your order, and porter it back to the smoking den.

Smoke-free Coffee Shops?

The smoking ban is a ban on smoking tobacco.

Hence horecarookvrij.nl, the official smoking ban information website set up by the Ministry of Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport includes the following:

From July 1, can I still smoke in a coffeeshop?

Answer: Coffeeshops also are subject to the tobacco regulations and thus must be smokefree. They too can set up designated smoking areas.
– Source: horecarookvrij.nloffsite, last accessed June 4, 2008. Translation: DutchAmsterdam.nl

What about cannabis? There’s been quite a bit of confusion on the issue (naturally, since government types are involved).

Still, a call to Postbus 51, the centre for public service information in the Netherlands as provided by the Government Information Service, confirms that the smoking ban refers only to tobacco.

It does not prohibit the smoking of, say, cannabis or hash.

Pure weed

This explains why, when we called a dozen coffee shops in Amsterdam to learn about their after-July-1 smoking policies, we received various answers (which will remain unattributed):

  • “We’re too small to have a designated area, so people can smoke whatever they want. There will be only some 40 inspectors for all of Holland so the chance of getting a fine is low.”
  • “You will still be able to smoke anything from cigarettes to joints to hash, as we have designated smoking areas.”
  • “Technically you won’t be able to, I think… but I’m not sure. Then again, I think that since it is a tobacco law you will be able to light up pure joints… And who’s to say whether or not you put some tobacco in it as well?”
  • “It’s a tobacco law, and right they are. That stuff is nasty! Very unhealthy! We are constructing a designated enclosure for anyone who’s addicted to that stuff. But when it comes to pure weed, man, you can smoke it here. No problem!”

So there you have it. Though our current conservative government types are toiling night and day to try and come up with new ways to make life miserable, come July 1st you will still be able to sit back and relax at your favorite coffee shop. Light up a joint. Smoke some hash. But by all means, don’t smoke any tobacco — unless you go to the designated smoking enclosure. Remember, tobacco is addictive as well as bad for your health.

By the way, many coffee shop also sell a variety of (fresh) juices, a selection of health food, and — generally — excellent espresso and cappuccino.

No Toking Outdoors?

That said, did you know there is one outdoor area in Amsterdam where it is not allowed to smoke marijuana?

See also:
Coffeeshops and Coffeehouses

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