Closing Time for Amsterdam’s Famous Coffeeshops

Amsterdam has long been synonymous with cannabis, previously boasting some of the most lenient laws on the planet for marijuana, but changes in the law could end all that.

As an international mecca for those seeking a taste of decriminalization, Amsterdam was both the capital of the Netherlands and the global capital of cannabis. But a rising tide of increasingly restrictive laws and regulations is already shuttering some of the city’s most iconic coffeeshops. 

For several generations of American stoners, Amsterdam was equal parts Graceland, Disneyland and the Promised Land. The overseas flight to this famously permissive city was more than just a vacation, it was a major rite-of-passage for the pre-legal cannabis lover.

Back then, when access to quality crops was much more limited in the U.S., stories of hours wiled away in the windmill-rimmed city’s famous cannabis-selling coffee shops — smoking exotic, high-potency strains never seen stateside —  were all it took to inspire a few dozen more plane tickets to Europe.

These days, of course, it’s not necessary to cross an ocean for Americans to find a city where marijuana is openly sold and consumed. Which is good news for them, because Amsterdam’s legendary coffee shops are closing fast.

The Mellow Yellow, Amsterdam’s first-ever cannabis-selling coffee shop, opened in 1967. According to a report by The Telegraph,  it won’t live to see 50; it’s one of the 28 coffee shops targeted for closure because it’s too close (within roughly 820 feet) to a school.

Cannabis has been and continues to be illegal in the Netherlands, where authorities have engaged in selective enforcement for decades, typically reserving punishment for only the biggest profit-seeking criminals.

Still, the coffee shops have been in trouble ever since Dutch lawmakers — under pressure from other governments in Europe sick of having their people come home with Dutch-bought weed — cooked up the “Weed Pass,” which limits coffee shop access to Dutch nationals, excluding foreign tourists.

Some municipalities in Holland agreed to these limits, but other places — like Amsterdam — resisted.

Nevertheless, the number of coffee shops in Amsterdam has decreased by as much as half since 2007, according to some estimates. The Telegraph guesses there are now 175 coffeeshops in the city, down from 350 in the 1990s.

The current plan to shut down coffeeshops near schools is part of an agreement Amsterdam officials cooked up with the federal government. If it doesn’t shut down at least some coffeeshops, national authorities say they’ll enforce the Weed Pass in Amsterdam—meaning no coffeeshop access for anyone who’s not Dutch.

Another social force blamed for the death of the country’s cannabis cafes is one familiar to many in the states: gentrification. Seeking to “clean up” its city center, which is internationally famous for sex tourism as well as cannabis visitors, Amsterdam officials have kicked out more than 20 coffeeshop as well as some sex shops and brothels.

Amsterdam’s mayor and other tourism officials swear they want to preserve the coffeeshops in some form, and with good reason: as many as 30 percent of Amsterdam’s many visitors stop into a coffee shop.

But August de Loor, one of the founders of a union for coffeeshop owners, commented to the Telegraph that the remaining shops are also gentrifying and beginning to resemble “supermarkets.”

“The coffeeshops that have survived are getting busier and they are kicking out the chairs – kicking out the social part of the coffeeshop – to essentially become cannabis supermarkets,” he said. “You go in, buy your weed and f*** off. That’s a terrible development.”

That scenario may sound awfully familiar to cannabis consumers in the states, where spaces legally designated for safe consumption are few and far between. 

TELL US, have you ever been to one of Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

2 Comments

  1. Jay Santos

    December 10, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    My wife and I were in Amsterdam back in 2004. It was GREAT! Not having to worry where your next bone was coming from. We hit a lot of different cafes, Bulldog being our favorite. My wife, who doesn’t smoke enjoyed the high she got from being in the smoke filled rooms without having to smoke it. She loved the space cake tho. Problem was, no one told us to take it a bite at a time! We each ate a whole slice while walking. Fortunately we were near our hotel! The 1st time in a cafe (Bulldog), I met an Englishman, who I had noticed was rolling a bone and he had put tobacco in it. As we don’t do this in the US, I asked him why and he said it was to add volume and use less weed. The papers over there are much longer than ours also, kinda like a 100’s cigarette to a regular cigarette. They also put some kind of “filter” in which they use as a roach clip. It was a great experience for me at least. What could be better than smoking a bone, drinking coffee and having great conversation’s with people from other cultures.

  2. Maynard

    December 9, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    1997, in a small neighborhood place where the etiquette – if you wanted something more than coffee – was to ask to see “the menu.”

    The sense of liberation (and strangeness) of being served and then legally smoking in the presence of people you didn’t know in a business establishment (still hard to do in the states – although I guess Denver’s about to remedy that in their city limits) was an amazing experience.

    These “supermarkets” sound awful in comparison.

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