*As a disclaimer, I should first say you should not go to Amsterdam just for the coffeeshop culture because the city has so much history and variety to offer. But that’s what I did and it was awesome! Second, do not go in a group of six, you will stick out like a sore thumb in any coffeeshop you walk into like we did.*
Today in Amsterdam marijuana in all of its forms, magic truffles and several other hallucinogens are legal and receive some form of supervision and regulation from the federal government. While I was interested in testing the quality of the weed and indulging in the coffeeshop culture, I was more interested in how the legalization of marijuana and other ‘soft’ drugs has affected society while simultaneously handling mass tourism.
With roughly 250 coffeeshops in Amsterdam you can’t walk more than a few blocks within the city center without seeing one. Some have stereotypical names such as, 420 Café, or simply have a huge sign declaring itself a coffeeshop. The majority of these coffeeshops are for tourists and do not portray the local coffeeshop environment despite all of them looking identically average. Imagine a traditional coffeeshop you may have visited recently, or one you would see in a movie, that’s exactly what they look like.
Fortunately, my aunt lived in Amsterdam for several years and was able to give me a list of recommendations for a true coffeeshop experience. The first coffeeshop we went to was called Amnesia and everyone was minding their weed. As we walked in, every set of eyes was on us. I could immediately tell that they had seen a group of young, inexperienced, weed-hungry tourists like us before.
Nonetheless, I walked up to the counter with confidence and started to browse the menu. I was shocked at how elaborate the menu’s offerings were by the strength of the weed and whether it was sativa or indica. Sativa is the up-beat, creative strain, while indica, simply put, will leave you in-da-couch. By the end of it, I found this to be a pretty common list of products.
One of the baristas walked over to us and greeted us with, “Hi guys, IDs please.” It totally went over my head that underage kids probably come in here all the time. This was our first speed bump as two of the guys had lost their IDs during previous shenanigans and were asked to leave, adding to our out-of-place appearance. Feeling the pressure, I picked out two pre-rolled’s and left quickly to not embarrass ourselves anymore. I got one House Mix Regular joint and an Amnesia Joint Pure. Another rookie mistake was not realizing that house mix meant it was a spliff and the barista didn’t care to inform us as she yelled, “Don’t smoke out front!”, as we left.
Unsure if we could openly smoke as we walked around, I lit the joints for the walk back to the Airbnb. I noticed lots of other people doing the same thing along the walk, but later found out that it is technically illegal to openly smoke in the streets, but the authorities don’t really enforce the rule unless you are being really obnoxious and blatant about it.
I spotted a coffeeshop next to our Airbnb, Café Barraka, and went in with one of the guys. It was empty except for one guy sitting by himself with his earphones in and two older baristas who appeared to be husband and wife. As we approached the counter the woman called out, “Are you two 18?”. As I reached for my ID she followed up with, “It’s alright, I believe you”, and laughed to herself.
She was much kinder than the barista from Amnesia as we got lost in a conversation about the different strains they offered and the coffeeshop culture as a whole. We walked out with a pre-rolled joint of their house indica, one gram of a hybrid strain called White Widow along with a free lesson from a seasoned veteran about the culture and as she put it, “how to smoke like a local”.
“It’s not as bad as it was a few years ago” she said referring to clueless tourists. “Most come in and ask for the strongest pre-rolled joints while regulars will buy a couple grams of their favorite strain and sit here for a while to relax”.
The next morning, I got up before everyone else and went over to Easy Times, the place my aunt recommended the most. Before I could get my headphones out the barista greeted me with, “Hi, how can I help you get high today?”. I told her I was looking for a strong sativa and she recommended a strain called Moonshine and offered me a smell test. I purchased two grams, a pre-rolled sativa of her choosing and a cup of coffee.
While she was making the coffee, I asked how she thought legalization has affected the city. Besides a complaint about tourists, her answer was positive. “People are going to do it anyway, so I think the government wanted to do their best to control it and keep people safe. Street dealers can lace their product with other stuff, and legalization allows for [the government] to collect tax revenue.” She added that it is really easy to spot high tourists walking around because they are giggling to themselves and sometimes act like idiots. “I think other countries will follow soon enough. Weed isn’t a dangerous drug or any more dangerous than alcohol. Some people prefer wine; some people prefer weed”.
I smoked the pre-rolled and drank my coffee as I walked to Inner Space, a truffle shop. The old lady behind the counter looked like a wise fortune teller. She took me through all the different levels of truffles she had to offer ranging from mild visuals to “stuff that makes the walls move”. I settled somewhere in the middle and got one serving of Dragon’s Dynamite which made the walls do more than just move.
I asked her the same question I asked the barista from Easy Times, and she gave a rather similar answer, a complaint about tourists but overall very positive. “Hallucinogens aren’t bad for you; they change your perspective on the world. If you can’t responsibly consume drugs then you shouldn’t do drugs”.
During the rest of the weekend, I sampled a few other coffeeshops from my aunt’s list and went into a few of the coffeeshops that seemed like a tourist trap. The only differences I could see were that the tourist traps had higher prices and were a lot louder and overcrowded.
Based on what the baristas shared with me and my brief time in Amsterdam I would say that legalization has benefitted the city more than it has harmed it. While it does heavily contribute to over-tourism, I believe it helps change the perspective that marijuana is a dangerous drug.
In regard to tourists, I believe it is on the tourists themselves to be able to responsibly consume marijuana while respecting the city and its residents. The same way people should not get too drunk at a bar or club, you should not get too high at a coffeeshop.
Furthermore, I think that the legalization of marijuana normalizes its consumption. By keeping marijuana illegal, it is in a sense glorified and puts people at risk as they don’t know what they are getting. I believe the best approach is to legalize it and regulate it the same as alcohol. The same way you should not judge someone for their decision to drink or not, you should not judge someone for their decision to smoke or not. Amsterdam consistently reports having less drug problems than anywhere else in the world, so how come the rest of the world is not following in the city’s footsteps?