Coffeeshops in Amsterdam

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Daneel Bouden

Soft drugs can be purchased in Holland by anyone who looks like or can prove to be over 18. The drugs can only be bought at shops that bear the name coffeeshop and can sell this ware. However, this is about to change if the government has its way; it wants “customers” to obtain a club card and allow only the holders of these cards to buy their drug of choice. Amsterdam is not amused by this new piece of legislation our government has come up with. Our mayor has written the minister of justice whose project this is and requested him to reconsider. The ability to legally buy soft drugs is unique globally and attracts lots of tourists to the city. It is precisely these tourists who will not be able to buy the infamous joints anymore. I expect that Amsterdam will ask to be excepted by this new rule.
Most coffee shops will allow you to smoke the obtained product on their premises as our rather new tobacco laws don’t apply to these odorous ( pun absolutely intended) trade venues. In 2007, the powers that be prohibited the use and sale of alcoholic beverages in coffee shops. Coffeeshops then had to choose between booze and soft drugs; guess how many went for the booze and how many for the dope.

Sale is legal; buying is illegal.
It’s really crazy, you can sell soft drugs in your coffee shop, but you can’t legally buy any. You are also deemed to pay taxes on the weeds you sell. The government calls “gedogen”, meaning “tolerating”, is rather ambiguous and difficult to uphold. It is still officially illegal to buy and sell soft drugs in Holland, but it’s tolerated as some other things have been in the past. Squatting and street prostitution by drug addicts, for example. However, these have now been made illegal and are no longer tolerated. Growing marihuana in The Netherlands is a national pastime; not a day goes by without the police having discovered yet another mini-farm; a lot of this so-called farming takes place in empty apartments. It involves a certain amount of equipment that you use to be able to but in what was called “grow shops”, these have also become illegal and prohibited lately, in other words, no longer tolerated. Another little titbit you may like to know is that every Dutch adult is tolerated to grow and own three marihuana plants for personal use.

Holland’s first coffee shop and not only Holland’s but indeed The Worlds first!
Sarasani in Utrecht was run by a rebel who used his cellar as a youth centre and organized concerts there during the weekend.
Saraswati was, of course, a thorn in the side of local politicians and law enforcement; they came with rules, protests and closures. This, however, didn’t stop our bold entrepreneur (Holly Hasenbos), and as soon as he saw an opportunity to open up again, he was back in business. Holly was killed in 1984 by a police officer; they say he was shot first when he was stopped at a traffic control post. Sarasin kept on going until it was finally closed down in 2007. Reason? They sold too much dope.

Mellow Yellow
The so-called toleration policy started with Sarasani; of course, Amsterdam soon followed suit. Coffeeshops sprouted up like daisies; Mellow Yellow opened its doors in 1973; there were 500 coffee shops in Amsterdam twenty years later!
I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think there are 250 left in the city now.

Marihuana leaf in the window
A coffee shop is not allowed and has never been permitted to advertise; this includes having a website; getting a “fan” to keep a weblog is the way to get around this. In the seventies, a man called Tygo pasted a marihuana leaf on the window of his coffee shop; after several broken windows, he replaced it with a rose.

Coffeeshop Amsterdam

There are certain conditions every coffee shop has to adhere to. No advertisements, no sales to people under eighteen, and no hard drugs or weapons on the premises. In other words, if someone walks in with a bag of cocaine and get caught, the proprietor is screwed.
If people in the neighbourhood repeatedly complain, the coffee shop will be closed down. A coffee shop can have a maximum of 500 grams in stock, no more. A customer may buy a total of 5 grams; this means that a coffee shop may only serve 100 customers. Of course rubbish, anyone who has ever hung around a coffee shop knows they sell a lot more than that. The sale of soft drugs in Amsterdam is big business; these guys literally make more money than they know what to do with.

Those are the rules, but the police are pretty much powerless to uphold them; they know that the drugs come in by the kilos and will be sold to youngsters and foreigners who don’t know really how to handle the substances they’re getting exposed to.

The best advertisement for a coffee shop is the word “coffeeshop.”
The term is well known worldwide, So not being able to advertise has little effect; stick the word on your display window, and you’ve done all the marketing necessary.

shutting down a coffeeshop
Sure, once in a while, a business gets shut down. Most owners run more than one shop; they don’t really get hurt that much if one location shuts down, you open up another one; if you can’t do that in your own name, use someone else to do it for you.
It’s some form of punishment the law can throw against them; on the other hand, there are many pubs where hard and soft drugs are sold without any form of control or legalization. You sometimes wonder if the only people in Amsterdam who don’t know where to buy cocaine are the cops.