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Amsterdam: A Drug Guide

by Leah Eades on August 31, 2014

“What? You’re going to Amsterdam? Dude, I bet you are gonna get soooo baked?”

As I’ve previously lamented, saying you’re going to Amsterdam – or even just the Netherlands in general – is pretty much guaranteed to elicit the above response.

But is Amsterdam the hotbed of drugs and sex it’s made out to be? Well, kind of – yes. But that doesn’t mean should get too caught up in its laidback ‘anything goes’ atmosphere.

Read on to find out why:

Why Dutch Drug Policy is Different

The Netherlands’ drug policy differs from the majority of other countries’ in that all recreational drug use is not viewed as inherently damaging, both on the individual and societal level, and so is not therefore subject to a blanket ban.

Instead, the Netherlands’ approach to drugs centers around reducing harm, treatment and rehabilitation, diminishing the public nuisances associated with drug use and combating production and trafficking.

Decriminalized Drugs

It is due to this pragmatic approach that soft drugs – most notably, cannabis – are, although technically illegal, decriminalized.

What this effectively means is that growing and possessing weed for personal use is tolerated, and coffee shops can operate as long as they stick to the rules (no advertising, no selling to minors, no selling more than 5g to each customer in a day, no hard drugs etc).

Certain types of recreational mushrooms (often sold as ‘truffles’) are also decriminalized and easily available around Amsterdam, although genuine psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms are illegal.

So Anything Goes?

In a word: no. Hard drugs – cocaine, heroin, LSD etc – are still firmly illegal. They will not be for sale in coffee shops, and if you do find yourself encountering them then remember they are just as illegal in the Netherlands as they are anywhere else. Don’t let the Dutch reputation for permissiveness delude you; be caught with hard drugs and risk anything from deportation to jail time.

Visiting a Coffee Shop

If you do decide to visit a coffee shop while in Amsterdam – which, despite what some people insist, is not a prerequisite – than remember to bring ID proving that you’re 18 or over.

Although a few cities in the Netherlands (including Maastricht and Eindhoven) operate a policy in which only residents in possession of a membership card (or ‘weed pass’) can patronize coffee shops, most places – Amsterdam included – do not. In fact, in Amsterdam, you’ll quickly see that tourists make up by far the majority of customers.

Another weird quirk of Dutch legal pragmatism is that although smoking indoors in public places is illegal in the Netherlands, you can still smoke marijuana inside a coffee shop – often with the smokers being kept in specially designated smoking areas. Not a smoker? Never fear – just try the space cake.

One thing to be aware of in Amsterdam, whether you’re an experienced stoner or first-time tryer, is that the cannabis here may well be stronger than what you’re used to, so go slow to avoid a white-out. This is especially true if you’ve gone down the space cake or hash brownie route – I know it’s tempting to just keep eating that delicious gooey chocolate-y goodness, but remember that stuff is a slow burner. You’ve got to wait for it to hit your stomach before you start feeling the effects, by which time it’s too late to stop.

I’m not going to lecture you about the dangers of finding yourself disorientated or incapacitated in strange surroundings – I’m sure your mother already did that when you mentioned you were heading to Amsterdam – but I will leave you with one more tip: if you’re not experimenting with drugs in familiar surroundings, at least be with familiar faces. If only to reduce the paranoia that may well follow.

Also, get yourself some stroop-waffels for afterwards.

Have you visited a coffee shop in Amsterdam? How did you find it?

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