Amsterdam’s Evolving Relationship With Weed

Aug 1, 2012

Dutch pot smok­ers are com­plain­ing that the gen­er­a­tion that was run­ning around Amsterdam’s Von­del­park in the Six­ties naked and on acid is now threat­en­ing the well-established, reg­u­lated mar­i­juana trade in the Nether­lands. Respond­ing to inter­na­tional pres­sure and con­ser­v­a­tives in rural and small-town Hol­land, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is crack­ing down on the cof­feeshops that legally sell mar­i­juana. But big-city may­ors, like Amsterdam’s, will fight to keep them open. Amsterdam’s lead­ers rec­og­nize that legal­ized mar­i­juana and the Red Light District’s pros­ti­tu­tion are part of the edgy charm of the city; the mayor wants to keep both, but get rid of the accom­pa­ny­ing sleaze. The Dutch have learned that when sex and soft drugs are sold on the street rather than legally, you get pimps, gangs, dis­ease, hard drugs and vio­lence. Ams­ter­dam rec­og­nizes the prag­matic wis­dom of its pro­gres­sive poli­cies and is buck­ing the fed­eral shift to the right. Locals don’t want shady peo­ple push­ing drugs in dark alleys; they’d rather see mar­i­juana sold in reg­u­lated shops. While in Ams­ter­dam, I took a short break from my guide­book research to get up-to-speed on the local drug pol­icy scene. I find this espe­cially inter­est­ing this year, as I’m co-sponsoring Ini­tia­tive 502 in Wash­ing­ton State, which is on track to legal­ize, tax, and reg­u­late the sale of mar­i­juana for adults (on the bal­lot this Novem­ber). The Nether­lands’ neigh­bor­ing coun­tries (France and Ger­many) are com­plain­ing that their cit­i­zens sim­ply make drug runs across the bor­der and come home with lots of pot. To cut back on this, bor­der towns have imple­mented a “weed pass” sys­tem, where pot is sold only to Dutch peo­ple who are reg­is­tered. But the independent-minded Dutch (espe­cially young peo­ple) don’t want to be reg­is­tered as pot users, so they are buy­ing it on the street — which is rekin­dling the black mar­ket, and will likely trans­late to more vio­lence, turf wars, and hard drugs being sold. The next step: In Jan­u­ary of 2013, this same law will come into effect nation­wide — includ­ing in Ams­ter­dam, whose many cof­feeshops will no longer be allowed to legally sell mar­i­juana to tourists. Locals point out that the Dutch are not more “pro-drugs” than other nations. For exam­ple, my Dutch friends note that, while the last 20 years of US Pres­i­dents (Clin­ton, Bush, Obama) have admit­ted or implied that they’ve smoked mar­i­juana, no Dutch prime min­is­ter ever has. Many Dutch peo­ple are actu­ally very anti-drugs. The Dutch word for addic­tion is “enslave­ment.” But the Dutch response to the prob­lem of addic­tion is very dif­fer­ent from that of the US. Being a port city, Ams­ter­dam has had its dif­fi­cult times with drug prob­lems. In the 1970s, thou­sands of hard-drug addicts made Amsterdam’s old sailor quar­ter, Zeed­ijk, a no-go zone. It was nick­named “Heroin Alley.” To fight it, they set up cof­feeshop laws (allow­ing for the con­sump­tion of pot while crack­ing down on hard-drug use). Today Zeed­ijk is gen­tri­fied, there’s no sense of the old days, and var­i­ous stud­ies indi­cate that Hol­land has fewer hard-drug users, per capita, than many other parts of Europe. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the num­ber of cof­feeshops exploded. The Dutch observed that mar­i­juana use rates increased, too, so they made changes, clos­ing shops that ignored rules or gen­er­ated neigh­bor­hood com­plaints. Now, new cof­feeshop licenses are no longer being issued, and the num­ber of cof­feeshops in Ams­ter­dam has declined from a peak of over 700 to about 200 today. With the move­ment afoot to crack down on things, cof­feeshops are try­ing harder than ever to be good cit­i­zens and to nur­ture good rela­tions with their neigh­bors. While most Amer­i­cans like their joints made purely of mar­i­juana, the Dutch (like most Euro­peans) are accus­tomed to mix­ing tobacco with mar­i­juana. There are sev­eral rea­sons: Back in the 1970s, most “pot smok­ers” here smoked hash, which needs to be mixed with some­thing else (like tobacco) to light up. Today, more Dutch pre­fer “herbal cannabis” — the mar­i­juana bud com­mon in the US — but they still keep the famil­iar tobacco in their joints. Tobacco-mixed joints also go back to hip­pie days, when pot was expen­sive and it was sim­ply waste­ful to pass around a pure mar­i­juana joint. Mix­ing in tobacco allowed poor hip­pies to be gen­er­ous with­out going broke. And, finally, the Dutch don’t dry and cure their mar­i­juana, so it’s hard to smoke with­out tobacco. Any place that caters to Amer­i­cans will have joints with­out tobacco, but you have to ask specif­i­cally for a “pure” joint. Joints are gen­er­ally sold indi­vid­u­ally (for €3 to €5, depend­ing on the strain you choose). Cof­feeshops are allowed only half a kilo (about a pound) of pot in their inven­tory at any given time. On a typ­i­cal day, a busy shop will sell three kilos (and, there­fore, take six deliv­er­ies). Very lit­tle mar­i­juana is imported any­more, as the tech­nol­ogy is such that strains from all over the world can be grown in local green­houses. (And the Dutch wrote the book on green­houses.) “Nether­lands weed” is now refined, like wine. The Dutch hemp her­itage goes way back in this sail­ing cul­ture. In the days of Henry Hud­son, hemp was crit­i­cal for qual­ity rope and for sails. The word “can­vas” comes from the same root as “cannabis.” In fact, there was a time when tobacco was the pricey leaf, and sailors mixed hemp into their cig­a­rettes to stretch their tobacco. Tourists who haven’t smoked since they were stu­dents are famous for over­dos­ing in Ams­ter­dam, where they can sud­denly light up with­out any para­noia. Cof­feeshop baris­tas nick­name tourists about to pass out “Whitey” — because of the color their face turns just before they hit the floor. The key is to eat or drink some­thing sweet to stop from get­ting sick. Coca-Cola is a good fast fix and cof­feeshops keep sugar tablets handy. No one would say smok­ing pot is healthy. It’s a drug. It’s dan­ger­ous, and it can be abused. The Dutch are sim­ply a fas­ci­nat­ing exam­ple of how a soci­ety can allow marijuana’s respon­si­ble adult use as a civil lib­erty and treat its abuse as a health-care and edu­ca­tion chal­lenge rather than a crim­i­nal issue. They have a 25-year track record of not arrest­ing pot smok­ers, and have learned that if you want to con­trol a sub­stance, the worst way to do it is to keep it ille­gal. Reg­u­la­tions are strictly enforced. While the sale of mar­i­juana is allowed, adver­tis­ing is not. You’ll never see any pro­mo­tions or adver­tis­ing in win­dows. In fact, in many places, the prospec­tive cus­tomer has to take the ini­tia­tive and push a but­ton to illu­mi­nate the menu in order to know what’s for sale. And, sur­pris­ingly, mar­i­juana is just not a big deal in the Nether­lands — except to tourists com­ing from lands where you can do hard time for light­ing up. A vari­ety of stud­ies have demon­strated that the Dutch smoke less than the Euro­pean aver­age — and fewer than half as many Dutch smoke pot, per capita, as Amer­i­cans do. Source: Huff­in­g­ton Post (NY) Author: Rick Steves Pub­lished: August 1, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 Huff​in​g​ton​Post​.com, LLC Con­tact: scoop@​huffingtonpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.huff​in​g​ton​post​.com/

6a4f3c9b83terdam.jpg 150x63 Amsterdam’s Evolving Relationship With Weed

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Amsterdam’s Evolv­ing Rela­tion­ship With Weed

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