You have to hand it to the Dutch – they are surely one of the most pragmatic of people on the planet. One of the first nations to explore and conquer foreign territories, they have always taken the initiative and especially when it comes to social issues.The Netherlands was the first country to fully legalize marriage equality with the first same-sex marriage occurring in 2001. The Dutch believe that every human has the right to decide matters about their own health, even their own death and have written these rights into law.
In a previous blog (March 20, 2017) I wrote about the Red Light District and the legalization of prostitution. The Dutch recognize that pushing an inevitable behavior underground, only invites corruption, violence and even death. To this end, controlled suicide (euthanasia) for terminally ill patients was available in the Netherlands long before it became a possibility in the United States.
The Dutch also have an enlightened view when it comes to an individual’s use of drugs. The commercial production, trading and stocking of drugs remains a criminal office in the Netherlands. However, for the Dutch, the individual use of marijuana and other “soft” drugs is treated more as a health issue, along the lines of alcohol and tobacco use, rather than a criminal activity.
They seem to have taken a hard look at prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the years 1919-1933 and have recognized the level of criminality created by total prohibition. With all the monies wasted on ineffective drug-law enforcement here, and the culture of terror extant in Central and South America by drug cartels, it’s somewhat surprising only a few States in the US allow personal recreational use of marijuana.
Amsterdam is well known for the easy availability of these “soft” drugs, which include weed, hashish and until recently magic mushrooms or paddos. But how does one find these places since they are not allowed to advertise? Even without the help of social media, it is not difficult to locate them.
A real give away of course, is the smell when you walk past the door of a certain “coffee shops”! Usually there are groups of younger people, primarily young men, gathered outside, waiting to get into a crowded shop. When you do enter, you are usually welcomed, shown a seat and then asked how you can be helped. Just as in the old days of Speakeasies, when you would whisper some code word through a slot in the door to gain access, here you ask : “May I see the Menu please.”
The menu will list all the different grades and types of cannabis available that day. Staff is on hand to answer questions about the effects of the various offerings. Prices vary but its around $12 per gram for a decent puff. To really fit in, roll a joint yourself.
Initially, back in the seventies, this kind of “coffee shop” (if you want coffee, go to a “cafe”) popped up everywhere. Lately their numbers have been reduced. There have even been efforts to restrict access to these coffee shops to residents only but that ban never came into effect when research showed that ninety percent of those frequenting these establishments are not the locals themselves, but foreign tourists. Amsterdam authorities quickly realized banning these shops altogether would have a devastating effect on the local tourist industry. There are still around 250 sprinkled across the city so there is no problem finding one with the right ambiance.
The tourist industry not only depends on business at “coffee shops”, there is an incredible burgeoning business in cannabis edibles, creams and other accessories.
I have to say, my very favorite, most imaginative product were the Girl Scout Cookies made with marijuana! You may need to squint carefully to read the label.
Speaking of Girl Scout Cookies, as I was getting ready to post this blog, a wonderful cartoon appeared today in our local paper. Enjoy!