Since the 1970’s Amsterdam has been known worldwide as the capital of cannabis tourism. As a consequence, many people think of the Netherlands as a country that has been able to successfully reconcile cannabis and politics.
Most people don’t realize the government of the Netherlands has never legalized cannabis, but instead has been maintaining a policy of tolerance. This policy allows registered cannabis café’s, or coffeeshops as the Dutch call them, to sell up to 5 grams of cannabis to any adult. There are 600 of these coffeeshops across the Netherlands with about 200 of them are based in Amsterdam. More than 2 million tourists visit the city just for this reason, and you can’t walk or bike through the city without somewhere smelling the unmistakable aroma of burning cannabis.
By letting the registered coffeeshops sell cannabis to people, the government has managed to keep at least the sale away from the black market. It seems to have been a successful way of dealing with the herb and the amount of people smoking cannabis is lower than in many other countries in Europe and the rest of the world. According to the annual prevalence of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime of 2010 only about 5.5% of the Dutch population uses cannabis while in the US the rate was about 14% in 2009, and in the UK it was about 6.5% in 2009.
But about a year ago the Dutch government announced that it would introduce a new law to ban tourists from entering the cannabis establishments and that would force Dutch citizens to apply for a so called “weed pass”. This weed pass would require registration in a database and would allow the person to visit only one cannabis café, where he or she can only buy up to 3 grams of cannabis each day.
The new card system rolled out in the Southern provinces last March was a disaster. Instead of shopping at the coffeeshops, tourists just found their cannabis from local street dealers — and in this way had easy access to other drugs as well. Meanwhile, Dutch smokers where refusing to be registered in a database for smokers and also began turning to illegal dealers.
In the Netherlands it is tolerated to grow up to 5 cannabis plants for personal use and the sale of cannabis seeds is completely legal. With the development of autoflowering cannabis seeds in the last few years it has become very easy to grow good quality cannabis fast and in small spaces that don’t have a lot of sunlight. The sale of these seeds has seen a clear rise last year when the new law went in effect, but also drug related crime rate rose very fast in the first few months of the new law as the police had a hard time dealing with all the street dealers roaming the streets 24 hours a day.
Dutch citizens have proven before that they will always find a way to get what they like as in 2008 the sale of magic mushrooms got banned and people just started growing their own. Magic mushroom spores have not been banned as well as magic truffles that are still legally being sold on the internet as well as in the local smart shops but do not belong to the same category as mushrooms although the effects are similar as they both contain psilocybin.
In the months after enrolling the new law there has been many discussions in the government about the results and many political parties claimed the new law was a bad solution which only caused more problems. For example, many coffeeshops where forced to close their doors after losing many of their foreign customers. Dutch media has been critical of the new law, while Dutch citizens have shown ongoing dissatisfaction with through ongoing street protests. The mayors of bigger cities, including Amsterdam, have also criticized the new law as unenforceable.
Although the lovely capital of the Netherlands has a lot more to offer than just the coffeeshops, the news about Amsterdam no longer being smokers paradise spread very fast in foreign countries as it would be unthinkable that the place where famous scenes of movies by Cheech and Chong have been shot or where Snoop Dogg smokes his favorite herbs would no longer be available or seize to exist in its free form. But after national elections in September the government scrapped the unpopular law that was supposed to go nationwide in 2013 and leaves the decision to ban foreign drug tourists to the cities themselves.
Amsterdam is still a 420 paradise.