Amsterdam streets were pulsing with lively crowd, trying to get around on foot and on bikes, not to mention a lot of cars. A few shops with characteristic for the Nederland’s capital symbol was advertising lucky escape in a form of cigarettes or a nice piece of cake for anyone who was interested in crossing the borders to a different world, losing control or having a laugh. The sellers were usually young, presenting their stock stuck on shelves behind the glass, not even trying to make it look appealing, with cake sitting comfortable on the platter behind a plastic screen, neatly cut into perfectly square pieces. As one of the sellers said, the cake is usually chocolate with a hint of ganja which you would not even taste as other ingredients are overwhelming.
The centre of Amsterdam is busy all the time, this city never sleeps, working hard during the day, advertising tourist attractions and offering different type of adventure to the daring once during the night. The legendary tolerance of Amsterdam’s residents let the businesses located in the Red Light District bloom and the shops selling ganja grow up like mushrooms after the rain. The grow started with the change to the law in 1976, when authorities decided that it would be better to get an ignorant face on and do not hunt anyone who possess less than five grams of marijuana for personal use. The tourist industry went crazy, with people coming to Amsterdam from all over the world for a wild party with no fear of being prosecuted by the police for smoking a joint.
There was a funny catch in this system – although the authorities has recognize the law to sell cannabis around the country, they have never made the growing of them legal. As a consequence any “growing the weed” on a scale bigger than 5 plants activity was considered illegal. That way the government was preventing the country form becoming the ganja empire, with a lot of factories legally producing the plant and selling it worldwide. In the past no one ever asked about the source for the product sold in the coffee shops… But that was in the past.
Now since 2011, according to the new law issued by the government, anyone who is using electric lights, prepared soil, “selected” seeds or ventilation is considered as a “professional” grower and as such is a subject to penalties. This new legislation wiped up more than 350 coffee shops across the country and as a result the rest of them is buying the stock from criminals. The stuff becomes very expansive and the quality suffers. Furthermore the street dealers’ number is going up and the economy suffers as well. The rules to the existing coffee shops changed as well.
I personally do not care about cannabis, I do not use them. I went to Amsterdam as a tourist in 2009, wanting to see the capital. My decision made laugh few people asking me what kind of stuff I want to see in Amsterdam if I do not go there with a mission to smoke like crazy. I agree the coffee shops are adding to the city atmosphere, like the Red Light District with Erotic Museum sitting comfortable in the heart of it, opened until late hours of the night, sharing the space with a hidden church. I like the Dutch attitudes towards marijuana, they allow it to be there and they control it. Luckily the idea of preventing tourists from buying the “legal weed” was abolished and if you are keeping up with the rules, you can still smoke in the shop. You cannot smoke outside and as long as you behave you can be “stoned” on the street.
I would not like if the Dutch government closed the coffee shops, as even for me their presence creates an unique Amsterdam atmosphere, but I would love if people could see that there is more to Amsterdam than this. It’s your decision why you want to visit a particular place, but I hope with Amsterdam you will be more open to other things than just coffee shops and Red Light District. After all they have one of the best city cards in Europe, including public transport, Artis Royal Zoo, Canal Cruise, Van Gogh Museum, De Nieuwe Kerk, Stedelijk Museum, Het Scheepvaartmuseum and much much more! Do go and smoke a joint if you want to, but spend next day on exploring the city just to give it a chance to show you a different face.