Feels Good is a comfy coffee shop on the edge of Amsterdam’s red-light district. They offer a half-dozen strains of pot or hash, ranging from six euros for .5 gram to 50 euros for 5 grams. If you prefer, pre-rolled spliffs are available in pure form, or mixed with tobacco in the typical European fashion.
Smokers tend to have the mindset of ‘do what you like as long as you don’t bother anybody.’ That’s the kind of mindset that we have in Amsterdam.
The law states that coffee shops can’t sell alcohol so most serve coffee, cold beverages and snacks. With a Fanta and spliff in hand, I sit to chat with Ranier, the bartender, about the pot situation in The Netherlands.
From the ground up… What are the laws regarding growing marijuana in Holland?
“You can grow up to 5 plants for personal use, but you can’t use technology – no fertilizer, lamps, fans, etc. In practice, you can only grow outdoors which is really shitty in Dutch climate. So, effectively, growing for yourself is illegal because to do it legally is not practical. Even if you do, it can only be for personal use. You can’t sell it to anybody, you can’t even give it to anybody.”
What about holding and smoking?
“If you carry more than five grams you are considered a dealer. Up to five grams is considered personal use and it’s allowed. But we can’t know what they bought at a different coffee shop. So you can start at the first coffee shop in Amsterdam and go to all 220 and get five grams in each coffee shop and have a large amount at the end of the day.”
Do people do that?
“A lot of people visit from Belgium or Germany for a day, go shop-hopping and get a bunch to bring home. They used to come and buy 50 or 100 grams, but since about 15 years ago it’s not allowed. That’s when the maximum became five grams per day–and there is talk of actually bringing that down to three grams. That might happen next year.”
Are the marijuana laws for tourists changing in Amsterdam?
“There is a law that is up right now, but there are a few drafts of that law. One draft stated that everybody should be registered, and to register you had to be Dutch. Plus the daily amount you bought would be registered, as well as the coffee shops you go into.
“The exception in that law is going to be Amsterdam. Amsterdam has so many tourists coming over here – and not everybody comes to smoke, but a big part goes to the coffee shops – and they don’t cause any problems. The mayor said he wouldn’t follow up on this law. Amsterdam just won’t follow it. That’s the way it’s worked for centuries.”
What about selling it?
“Only coffee shops have a legal license to sell it. Coffee shops can have up to 500 grams in stock, but the act of buying it in bulk to re-stock is illegal. And like I said, the grower that grows it performs a criminal act as well because he is growing more than five plants and using technology.
Then the moment we sell it, it magically becomes legal because our profit is taxed. So you have a really strange situation with a government that gives you a license to own a coffee shop, to run a business, but also technically makes you a criminal. They know we break the law to run the business, of course, but they turn a blind eye to the fact that we have to buy it illegally.”
What about the social acceptance of marijuana in Holland?
“In the city of Amsterdam it’s accepted by 99% of people, but in other cities in Holland it’s less accepted. I think, personally, that has to do with experience. If you have experience with soft drugs, or with people using soft drugs, you won’t have many hang-ups about it. In small villages with no coffee shops, where everything is still hidden, there is more fear for the unknown.”
Does Amsterdam pot culture cause problems?
“The problems are minimal. The excuse they used when they banned alcohol in coffee shops was that tourists couldn’t handle the combination of alcohol and soft drugs. People can have a bad experience, especially when they start drinking and then smoke.
What are the benefits of legal marijuana?
I think the biggest benefit is money-wise. You don’t have a police force chasing marijuana users. In America that costs the government and taxpayers a lot of money.
One of the other benefits is the quality of the marijuana. Where marijuana is illegal, the quality will go down and not just the potency. For instance, a lot of British people come here because the quality of the marijuana we have is much better. A lot of times on the black market, it is mixed with chemicals or sprayed with polymers to make it look like there is more THC and to add to the weight. When it’s legal, you get a purer, more healthy marijuana.
Another benefit is the mindset of people. Smokers tend to have the mindset of ‘do what you like as long as you don’t bother anybody.’ That’s the kind of mindset that we have in Amsterdam, and that goes back hundreds of years. From marijuana to sex to religion, everything goes here. We’re very tolerant and I think that goes hand-in-hand with marijuana users.
What advice would you give to my stoner buddies back in America?
Just come here!