If every drug were removed from the planet, humans would probably grab the nearest hard object and bang themselves on the head to escape reality. Drug wars are seldom won, as the Dutch recognised in 1976 when they decriminalised marijuana and hash.
Since then, the laws on cannabis have always been fuzzy, and it has never technically been legal. But two numbers remain clear: five and 30. In Amsterdam, at least, the much-feared 'Weed Pass' is dead, meaning that you can still buy up to five grams per shop, and you may carry up to 30 grams. But if you walk outside with 30 grams rolled into one smouldering joint hanging from your lips, the police could hand out a fine – but this is rare. Generally, it's simply considered impolite to toke outside a coffeeshop.
As for over-the-counter sales, coffeeshops weren't legalised until 1980. Many were around before, but arguments abound on which was the first. The Melkweg sold soft drugs to hippies in 1970, but was never a coffeeshop. Although signs on the Bulldog (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 90, www.bulldog.com) say it was the first, its registration number reads 002.
Surviving isn't easy. Coffeeshops are under continual watch and must regularly dance with the law. As mentioned above, unlike elsewhere in the Netherlands, it's not necessary to provide proof of Dutch residency to enter coffeeshops here, but there are stringent rules relating to their location (basically: well away from schools and playgrounds) which continue to tighten as Amsterdam positions itself as a destination for high culture rather than, well, the other kind of high culture.
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Etiquette: when you first walk in, ask to see a menu: it will list available drugs with prices, and staff can explain their effects. You're welcome to see and smell everything before you buy. Prices vary: expect to pay upwards of €10 per gram for a decent bud or a chunk of hash. For better quality, bring more currency.
The menu: hash is typically named after its country of origin (Moroccan, Afghan, Lebanese), whereas cannabis names refer to an element of the strain (White Widow, Super Skunk, Silver Haze). These are mostly genetic hybrids developed over the years for supreme effect. Organic herb is surging in popularity, replacing potent weed. Various coffeeshops carry a good bio selection; some sell nothing but.
Smoke-free highs: opt for spacecake to save your lungs. Just make sure you're free for the next five hours.
Smoke like a local: many coffeeshops offer bongs, pipes and even vaporisers. But if you want to blend in, roll a joint. All shops provide free rolling papers and tips. If you lack the skills, pre-rolled joints are available, but usually contain low-grade ingredients. If you've already got grass and need a place to smoke, no shop will deny you having a seat, but you should at least buy a drink.
Where to go: in terms of ambience, every establishment is different. Some serve amazing food, others offer brilliant couches. With hundreds across town, you could easily stumble onto your own personal favourite just around the next corner.
While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.
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