In the Netherlands, coffee shops are premises where the sale of cannabis, for personal consumption by customers, is tolerated by the local authorities. The idea of licensing the sale of cannabis was introduced in 1970 with the explicit aim of curbing the use of hard drugs, clearly distinguishing them from soft drugs, which were legalised in the meantime.
The drug policy is very strict in the Netherlands, so sales are only allowed to those over 18 years of age and businesses risk closure if the authorities discover alcohol and other drugs being sold in them.
Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are widespread throughout the city; they were illegal even before the 1970 law, but today the municipality of Amsterdam, based on an agreement with the trade union Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten (BCD), allows coffeeshops to be open, with non-transferable licences; authorised coffeeshops must display a green and white sticker at the entrance as recognition.
Entrance to coffeeshops is permitted to anyone over the age of 18 years and in possession of an identification document. Coffeeshops are not allowed to advertise, but it will not be difficult to distinguish them once you stroll through the city streets.
Each of Amsterdam’s 220 coffeeshops can sell up to a maximum of 5 grams of marijuana per person per day. In addition to cannabis, the coffeeshops sell marijuana cakes, spacecakes, small portions whose effect is produced after about an hour, cartridges, filters and pipes.
The settings in coffee shops can vary. There are some more well-kept and others more spartan; from rooms where there are murals and African flags decorating the walls, to small shops where there is very little seating, to other more well-kept rooms where you can smoke, relax on a comfortable couch and drink a refreshing juice.
Some coffee shops have an actual menu to consult with the different qualities of marijuana, while others choose to keep a menu under the counter, as a gesture of discretion that is still technically necessary. However, the staff of the premises will always be available to help if one is in doubt about the choice of products. In addition to cannabis products, it is also possible to buy normal soft drinks and food.
Numerous coffeeshops can be found along Haarlemmerstraat and Warmoestraat. However, here are some of the most popular coffeeshops in the city:
Also interesting are the Baba, the Abraxas, the Grey Area along Oude Leliestraat and the Siberie: these are historic coffeeshops, well-kept and very open with tourists, offering relaxing and less crowded environments. Amsterdam’s most popular coffeeshops also include Amnesia along the Herengracht, Dutch Flowers along the Singel, and Homegrown Fantasy along Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.
The Coffeeshops most frequented by the Dutch are Het Ballonnetje along Roetersstraat and Katsu along Eerste van der Helststraat.
In Amsterdam, there is a museum completely dedicated to marijuana, its history, cultivation and production methods, hemp and hashish. The Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum is located at Oudezijds Achterburgwal 148 and has a collection of more than 6 thousand objects.
Amsterdam also hosts the High Times Cannabis Cup in November, an event celebrating the use of marijuana. The event is a travelling event, and is organised in countries where the use of cannabis is legalised.
During the week there are performances, exhibitions and seminars on the cultivation, distribution and medical and recreational use of the plant.
In Amsterdam, you will come across several Smart Shops, i.e. shops selling stimulants such as Ephedra and Guarana, aphrodisiacs such as Muira Puama and Gingko Biloba, vitamins, cultivation kits, vapourisers and so-called magic mushrooms.
For a more comprehensive visit, discover the culture of Amsterdam’s coffee shops with a guided walking tour. Probably the best way if you don’t know where to start!