Posted on: February 9, 2014
Every year 6 million tourists come to Holland’s capital, they come for the canals, the red light district, the master pieces of art, etc. But a quarter of those visitors also come for the coffeeshops in Amsterdam. Where coffee is served and marijuana is on the menu.
Producing cannabis is still illegal here in the Netherlands. Yes, you read that correctly – it’s illegal! Police won’t prosecute you for smoking or selling a small amount of marijuana, because that is legal. And the idea is that this way marijuana won’t be sold alongside harder drugs like heroin and cocaine, but in the safe and regulated environment of the coffeeshop.
Michael Veiling owns the “420 coffeeshop” in Amsterdam. We met him here with Derek Burke, the spokesperson for the Dutch Cannabis Association. Michael Veiling: “I’m convinced that in another 10 years, people will look back say: How did we ever got that crazy idea to criminalise cannabis?”
But there are restrictions; one can buy a maximum of five grams of cannabis and coffeeshop owners are only allowed only keep up to 500 grams of cannabis in stock. Coffeeshops in Amsterdam (and the Netherlands) may not sell alcohol or any other drugs. The sale of cannabis to anyone under the age of 18 is illegal.
In fact, marijuana use is significantly lower in the Netherlands. According to recent studies, roughly 52% in the US have tried marijuana in their lifetime. Compare that to just 25% in the Netherlands.
Border towns like Maastricht have closed coffeeshops and are now barring tourists from buying cannabis, fearing that some visitors are only coming here to buy, so they can go back home to sell marijuana.
Advocates like Derek Burke say the answer is to fully regulate both the production and sale of cannabis, as in Colorado, to cut out criminal networks.
Derek Burke: “There is one hole in the policy (in the Netherlands), which is the production side. How do coffeeshop owners in Amsterdam get their cannabis? The regulators haven’t solved this issue. Now we can see in Colorado and also in Uruguay that it’s working. It’s not rocket science, you can have regulations for production of cannabis in a safe way.”
In practice, this means that coffeeshops in Amsterdam have their own connections to get their cannabis.
American John Sinclair has been advocating for legalization since 1964. He spent more than two years in prision for lighting two joints in the nineteen sixties. Defiant act made famous by John Lennon’s song – John Sinclair. He’s now a resident poet at the 420 coffeeshop, but even his Dutch friends are jealous Colorado’s new laws. For John Sinclair and many others, legal marijuana is inevitable. An idea whose time has finally come.