Published: August 14th, 2017
Categories: Cannabis Info
For travellers seeking cannabis-friendly destinations, look no further than Amsterdam. Perhaps more than any other city in the world, Amsterdam is considered the ultimate cannabis capital. Although the legality of weed in the Netherlands is still somewhat blurry, customers can purchase and consume an array of cannabis products in the relaxed atmosphere of social “coffee shops.”
In the Netherlands, cannabis was officially decriminalised in 1976, but coffee shops have been around for much longer. Once it became legal for individuals to consume, coffee shops continued on, this time under more transparent operations. The odd state of current business allows coffee shops to buy and sell cannabis, but prohibits suppliers from cultivating or selling. This creates a paradoxical working-relationship where the government turns a blind eye to parts of the coffee shop supply chain.
Marijuana is a major instigator of Amsterdam’s successful tourism industry, which is why outlawing coffee shops would cause a major hit to the city’s economy. Upon realising that decriminalising cannabis led to less crime, the “backdoor policy” of coffee shop product supply has steadily carried on.
Cannabis is considered to be a soft drug whose enforcement is less strict than hard drugs like heroin and XTC. Hard drugs are fully prohibited and drug-related crimes of this type can lead to greater punishment under the law.
Before visiting your first coffee shop, it helps to know what to expect from these establishments and how they differ from other types of businesses with similar names. In Amsterdam’s city centre, you will find businesses called coffeeshops (one word in Dutch), cafés and coffee houses (koffiehuis).
Concerning cannabis, the only title you will want to concern yourself with is the "coffeeshop". These establishments sell an array of different cannabis products to residents and tourists eighteen years of age and older.
Cafes, on the other hand, appear more like a bar or restaurant, while coffee houses (two words) will provide you with traditional coffee and pastry fare. Neither cafes nor coffee houses are allowed to sell cannabis, so don't enter an establishment and light up before evaluating your surroundings.
The sheer number of coffee shops in Amsterdam can make finding the perfect spot overwhelming. With over 200 official shops, you will likely want to pick a few different businesses to try out during your stay. Local law dictates that coffee shops are not allowed to advertise, so the only way to really find out what a location is like is to go inside!
Upon entering a coffee shop, you will find some type of bar or display counter behind which products are stocked. Every coffee shop has a menu where you can view a diversity of cannabis options to choose from.
By the way, if you already have your own stash and don’t want to purchase more, most coffee shops allow you to smoke your own stuff - it is considered impolite however not to purchase a snack or beverage. Even buying a coffee while smoking your own cannabis is a way to show respect to the business.
Now, onto the spoils: at present, coffee shops are loaded with more varieties of cannabis strains and consumption methods than ever before. Some common items you will find on a coffee shop menu include weed by the gramme, joints, “pure” joints, space cakes/edibles...
Everyone has different preferences on how they like to consume their cannabis - just be aware that Amsterdam cannabis may contain much more concentrated levels of psychoactive THC than you are used to. If you are looking for a regular joint, be aware that classic Amsterdam joints are often mixed with tobacco. “Pure” joints, on the other hand, contain only cannabis. Space cake is a bit of an Amsterdam speciality that is basically just a very potent edible.
No more than 5 grammes of cannabis can be sold per location. If you happen to marathon through you maximum allowance at one location and need to re-up, there will be another coffee shops nearby where you can easily purchase more.
Coffee shops are usually very socially oriented, so you may want to consider choosing a strain that allows for you to comfortably interact with others. The best way to achieve this is to steer clear of heavy couch-lock strains. Feel free to ask your knowledgeable budtender any questions to help you pick the right product for the kind of experience you want to have.
Many visitors to Amsterdam coffee shops have never consumed cannabis before, so it’s important that budtenders are able to explain the different strains to smokers of all experience levels and requirements.
The basics of strain science are pretty easy to remember: Indica strains usually grow into smaller, bushier plants that produce an array of potent flowers concentrated on fewer colas. Most indica-dominant strains encourage significant body highs and intense relaxation. While indica varieties are excellent for a relaxing day at home or to manage bodily pain, they can make for a lacklustre social outing. This brings us to Sativa strains. Sativas are usually grown taller, with more dispersed buds located on several colas.
When consumed, sativa strains support creative, energetic effects that are great for being active and hanging out with friends. The one possible downside of sativas though, is that they can spur anxiety and paranoia when taken in high doses.
Many strains found on the world market today are Hybrids, which result from years upon years of selective breeding. Hybrids retain physical characteristics and psychoactive effects from both sativas and indicas, making them an ideal strain for coffee shop consumption.
Edible cannabis products (usually just called edibles) are a perfectly viable way to consume THC. Made using traditional cannabutter methods or with hash, edibles like space cakes produce different outcomes than smoking or vaporizing.
The way THC is metabolised when eaten in food usually causes a delayed, then rapid onset of effects in most individuals. This can cause an intense, jarring sensation that incites high levels of anxiety in some individuals. While these instances are fairly common and harmless, they don’t make for the same kind of laid-back coffee shops experience most people are looking for.
One thing that coffee shops don’t sell? Alcohol. In 2007, Dutch law began to dictate that businesses could choose to either sell cannabis or alcohol, but not both. If you are really craving an alcoholic beverage alongside your joint, there are many bars dispersed throughout the city that allow customers to smoke - they just can’t sell it.
Coffee shops aren’t complete misnomers - once you’ve gotten past the excitement of taking those first few hits, you’ll likely be ready to purchase some refreshments to accompany your cotton mouth. This is where businesses really vary from one another. Depending on the location, the food and coffee options will be different in terms of selection, quality and price.
There are plenty of online lists and forums detailing the many diverse coffee shops around the city. When planning your visit, conduct some research to see which coffee shops are best reviewed, off the beaten path, etc. Or, you can always leave it up to chance and try out some locations blind.
For frugal travellers looking to spend as little money as possible, veer past the popular city centre locations off to more distant locations on the outskirts. Since Amsterdam usually has a higher quality of product than other completely prohibited cannabis markets around the world, a small amount of money stretches a longer way.
Despite the large number of coffee shops, many locations do not have wi-fi. Depending on which one you visit, some coffee shops will have music playing and fun distractions like arcade games. Other locations are set up more like to-go retail stores that are small and don’t allow for on-site consumption. These grab and go varieties are great for busy individuals simply looking to purchase a product without staying to consume it.
If you are visiting from out of town and staying the night, consider choosing an Airbnb that is openly cannabis friendly. You may struggle to find a hotel where you can openly smoke, but there are plenty of rental options available that detail an open smoking policy in their ad. The internet has made international marijuana tourism easier for visitors in recent years by providing an overview of what you can expect based on reviews, pictures and others' experiences.
While psychedelic mushrooms are banned in Amsterdam, psychoactive truffles and other hallucinogenic eco-drugs can be purchased at establishments called "Smart Shops." Don't go wandering into a coffee shop expecting to find anything but cannabis products. At Smart Shops, you will find everything from salvia to peyote.
Generally speaking, the state of cannabis culture in Amsterdam is pretty lax. While you aren't technically allowed to smoke up in public, the law isn't strictly enforced. With that said, purchasing illegal weed off the street is a punishable offence. Furthermore, buying street drugs comes with the possibility that the substance has been cut with other unwanted drugs.
There is much more to do in Amsterdam than just smoking - with many other impressive cultural, historical and geographic features to boot, this city makes for the ideal (responsible) stoner's playground. So what else are you waiting for? With everything going on in the world today, there has never been a better time to visit Amsterdam coffee shops and explore the beauty of this cannabis capital.