Myths about Amsterdam coffeeshops

By: Georgios Mouratidis

If you don’t live in a legal state or country with a tolerant legal framework on cannabis, chances are you think a visit to Amsterdam is like a trip to a land where everything is possible. I know that was the case four years ago when I first visited the city. Coming from Sweden, a country with strict regulations on cannabis, I was taken aback at how relaxed things seemed in Amsterdam. Coffeeshops were ubiquitous, there were tons of strains to choose from and everywhere I looked, I saw happy high people.

It took several more trips to Amsterdam to understand that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to its liberal culture. In this article, I am going to dispel four common myths surrounding the Amsterdam coffeeshop scene and discuss some topics that most first-time visitors get wrong about the city’s cannabis culture.

Myth #1: Cannabis is Legal in the Netherlands

Seriously, that’s the first and most important thing you need to remember about cannabis in the Netherlands. Possession and use of cannabis are decriminalized and tolerated, but certainly not legal. Carrying more than five grams at all times is both illegal and criminalized, so if the police catch you with more, you will have to pay a fine and say goodbye to your weed. However, this information only scratches the surface of a complex “legal” framework.

Interestingly enough, growing more than five cannabis plants in the Netherlands is illegal. Fines for violators can be harsh, including up to four years of jail time and hefty fines, or worse; eviction. However, observant readers would have already caught one significant discrepancy: how is growing cannabis illegal in a country full of licensed coffeeshops?

This is a problem so significant that it has its own name: it’s called “the achterdeur problematiek” (the backdoor problem). Coffeeshops may not hold more than 500 grams of cannabis in their inventory at all times, so the supply has to be continuously renewed by illegal growers. More often than not, these growers enjoy the protection of criminal organizations and police crackdowns are a daily phenomenon. You can find more in-depth information about the Dutch cannabis legislation.

Myth #2: You Will Get the Strain That You Paid For

There is so much information written about all the different cannabis strains throughout the web. Breeding and cultivating are two of the most exciting parts of the culture. After the recent wave of cannabis legalization in the US, the growing scene in California has been extraordinarily active, with thousands of new genetics and phenotypes flooding the market. New strains are engineered to cater to specific audiences, whether that’s people who want huge amounts of THC or medicinal cannabis patients.

With literally thousands of strains out there, it is practically impossible to verify what the correct genetic profile of your bud is. Let’s say you enter a coffeeshop and decide to buy 3g of White Widow. If you make your choice by name alone, you have very little to go on.

Think about it this way: who can tell for sure whether what you’re smoking or vaping is a particular strain? Even within similar varieties, phenotypes and genetic traits may vary. Therefore, you should focus more on other aspects — namely, cannabinoid content, terpenes, and smell. If your budtender can’t accurately describe what a strain is all about, try another coffeeshop! Think outside the box and don’t make your choice by name alone.

Myth #3: Anything Goes in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is famously liberal and open-minded when it comes to personal freedom. This is evident from the city’s relaxed (but not too relaxed) policy on cannabis and sex work. Amsterdam is also one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with loads of museums and interesting sights to see. Although some people might wrongly believe it is a cesspool of drugs, prostitution, and crime, this could not be farther from the truth.

It’s easy to forget social norms when you take a night walk through Red Light District with a blunt in your hand. Many first-time visitors do. However, you must remember that everything is tightly regulated and that Amsterdam is more than its center. Here is a quick top three of stupid things people do in the city when (too) high.

Public urination

Every year, 20 people drown in the Amsterdam canals. 20% of them died trying to pee in the water while high. Best case scenario, you get a €140 fine.

Being assholes in public

Just because weed is tolerated, it doesn’t mean you are too. Keep a low profile and be respectful towards others. Especially the sex workers at the Red Light District, as they are humans too. Plus, their bouncers don’t joke around.

Buy drugs from the street

No. Don’t. Best case scenario, you end up with a bag of shitty coke, or worse mislabelled white heroin!. Worst case scenario, you end up scammed or worse, dead. Random dudes will approach you on the streets around RLD. Don’t even bother.

Read our article on Coffeeshop Guru for a deeper dive on the things not to do while in Amsterdam!

Myth #4: All Dutch People Are Stoners

You would indeed expect that most Dutch people would have a pretty good relationship with cannabis. After all, it is decriminalized and literally everywhere. However, you will be as shocked as I was when I learned that cannabis use among Dutch people is lower than the European average. The majority of the people in the Netherlands do not use cannabis, and a good percentage actively dislike it.

That being said, be respectful of designated “cannabis-free zones.” Areas like this are scattered throughout Amsterdam and are marked by signs. Also, try to avoid being too loud in residential areas unless you want to experience first hand a fit of Dutch directness.

Enjoy Amsterdam Coffeeshops

Amsterdam is a fantastic city, full of culture, natural beauty, and high-quality cannabis. Even though not everything you’ve heard might be true, one thing’s for sure: you will have a great time here! Enjoy!

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