Article by Janine Morra, High Canada
As someone who was fortunate to have visited Amsterdam twice in its heyday of the 90’s. What the hell happened? They were light years ahead of Canada in terms of ideology and product. In Canada in the early 90’s other than in BC, you could get great product: only if you knew the right person and were willing to spend what it cost. The average cannabis on the streets of Canada did not match the quality of what was being produced in the Netherlands at that time. They were so far ahead of Canada in terms of creating new strains. They were the first country to have a Marijuana and Hash Museum to educate the masses.They were the first to have a Cannabis College. They had hemp stores when no else did.
But they have changed…. in the 90’s there were between 500-800 (depends who was counting) coffeeshops in Amsterdam alone. Now they are down to 160-170. It is incredible that one of the first coffeeshops opened in the Netherlands was forced to close. Why you ask? Because it is close to a school. It doesn’t matter that it is a cosmetology / barber school so only open for adults. Yep The Mellow Yellow, (opened in 1972) the closest coffeeshop to my hotel was now closed. As it was 21 metres too close to the school, they had to close in January 2017. I would sometimes be having a puff in the park at the end of street. Apologizing to the residents that were out walking their dogs or running off to work since that area did not have a coffeeshop my only option was out in the street.
Not that I consider myself a expert, but in my 12 days in Amsterdam I visited 26-28 different coffeeshops. I really tried to keep track but that was a huge endeavour….. this is my best guess. Some of these shops I visited more than once to ask more questions or because of the lovely vibe. Luckily I was invited to one of the shops the ‘locals’ frequent The Grey Area. These gentlemen were very good to me and answered my gazillion questions. One of the boys behind the counter was from Brampton. So after Sammy grilled me about Toronto ….I grilled him back, “ Why the hell have I not seen one nice looking bud since I got here.” And the answer is basically because everybody is buying in small quantities. When people are always buying smaller quantities they don’t want to feel like they are getting stalk and sticks for their money. The shops are breaking it down a bit before it’s going into the container used to sell to the clients. In Canada it’s more like , “Geez, look at this nice Bud, it’s so and so many grams…Do you want the whole thing?” A lot of Canadians are going to say “Yes..Please… and How Much?” Relishing the ability to be the person to break that bud up. By this marker alone we are in front.
My biggest take away from this time in Amsterdam is the fact that I can walk into any coffeeshop and buy 5 grams and that’s legal, in the dutch sense of legality. The Dutch blind eye. The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) will not prosecute these coffeeshop transactions. The PPS TOLERATES personal possession. There is a huge difference and it’s partly that the average Dutch person can see the benefits of tourist money. They want people to visit, be able to buy small quantities of cannabis and leave some of their money behind for their economy. Your Welcome! The coffeeshop can have 500 grams on site at any one time and be legal in the eyes of the PPS.Therefore if every client were to buy the limit they would be able to only service 100 customers before they would have restock. In a big shop you can see a 100 people come thru in an hour or just a bit more. It reminded me of rush hour in Toronto, all the coffee morning lines . I even saw a shop with people waiting out the door. For them Rush hour that’s Friday evening after work time. After they have had a ton of clients they are going to need more. Where are they storing their supply? There has to be some system in place where they are getting a large supply. Now here is the start of the problem because the storage of the cannabis before it gets to the shop is technically illegal. And hence how they have come up with the “BACKDOOR” policy. I mean the cannabis doesn’t just appear…wishful thinking eh!! And again the PPS is tolerating these establishments, they are technically not exactly legal. So the cannabis is technically illegal….. until it makes it into the shops to be sold? Does this really sound like they are winning the battle?
If you ask a Dutch person they say it’s legal to be able to grow 5 plants per person. If you go to the gov’t website, again it’s stated that growing small quantities will be tolerated. Not quite the same as being legal it’s more a form of decriminalization. They are not allowed to use electricity to grow. They are supposed to grow outside with the sun. So how does every shop have this steady supply of cannabis? Where is it coming from? Well there are only two choices either it’s grown in the Netherlands or it’s imported. Again I was told that wink wink…that blind eye is working again and of course there is cannabis being grown indoors across the country. But just don’t get caught! What are they importing, well obviously Moroccan and Afghani hash. Hash from all over the world Lebanese, Nepali and crazily from the US. There was Ice-o-lator from the US for 60 Euro per Gram. Which at the exchange rate at the time made it close to $100 Cdn, which I’m sorry is crazy prices. The Dutch pioneered the coffeeshop model for the world. But they are not currently reaping the benefits of their model as there is a major disconnect within their system. Why is it political? Are the majority of Dutch people happy with the status quo? How could they be if their industry makes criminals out of business people. They have been running this model for decades now and instead of becoming more mainstream they are still within the grey market. They never fully made their supply chain legal. Most Dutch are happy with the way things work. They can grow, smoke and buy their small amounts of cannabis and they are happy. They are not thinking about where the cannabis in these shops is coming from.
Why is that? Is it that …..Dutch mentality of turning a blind eye, to things that they know are going on? Why?
Isn’t The Netherlands supposed to be the liberal, logical older brother of North America.They always were more progressive with new ideas. The Netherlands is the country where democracy and liberal ideas were founded. I don’t understand what happened to the Amsterdam I fell in love with so many years ago! Did I have some nice smoke? Yes I did! Did they have the quality of cannabis that we have here in Canada…..well yes and no. What are you willing to spend for your cannabis? Are you willing to spend more because you are vacation? Depending on the level of cannabis you currently smoke? What are you used to? Is it a common strain or Not? Looking for any concentrate products other than Hash? Speaking to the staff at the shops I was told that 90 percent of the cannabis in the shops is between 10 and 20 percent THC. You can get over 20 percent but you will pay top dollar. You should of seen the looks on peoples faces that I met showing them Canadian prices from different companies that I had on my phone. Premium strains working out to 3.89 Euro if you had a medical card and 5.14 Euro if you did not. In the Amsterdam shops the cheapest lower was for outdoor grown for 5 Euro if they even had a product like that. Otherwise the cheapest would be between 8 and 10 Euro a gram an average of 12 to 16 Euro and prices even higher than that. The best lower deal I saw was 5 grams of AK-47 for 35 Euro. Hash was actually a much better deal when translating to our Canadian dollars. It was closer to what we pay here in Canada the cheapest a gram of Afgani for 5 Euro, average 10 to 12 Euro and again more expensive offerings.
Concentrate products are classified as Schedule 1 drugs and therefore you will not ind them in coffeeshops. They are considered a black market product. There are seed shops everywhere and some coffeeshops sell them also. Seriously corner stores sell seeds and there are food products made with hemp all over. CBD sprays and oils, but almost no cannabis with CBD in it. People have heard of Charlotte’s Web and Harlequin but it is non existent in Netherlands.There are smart shops which sell psychoactive truffles (the underground part of the mushroom) and other psychoactive products. Magic mushrooms are illegal but truffles are not outlawed and contain the same active ingredient. Again one of these makes no sense laws. There doesn’t seem to b every much going on with cannabis activism or medical cannabis.There are some groups working to promote better cannabis legalization but all the action seems to be going on in Amsterdam. They have a group for the coffeeshops, the Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten established in 1994. This group tries to lobby the govt and provide guidance for coffeeshops. So many other Europeans I met were so disappointed in their go vernment’s refusal to relax / change cannabis regulations to see the light! It’s so easy for Europeans to just pop to Amsterdam and have some fun for a few days. Everyone thought Cannabis was legal in Canada and could not believe it was still in the process of becoming legal.
One of the most hilarious things is that in e very single coffeeshop there are numerous signs that say “NO TABAK smoking” and “no smoking joints filled with tobacco ”. They have jars everywhere filled with a herbal blend that people are “supposed” to use. It’s just for show, the majority of people mix lower or hash with tobacco. I mean all the shops sell pre-rolled joints that have tobacco in them, some will also offer clean joints. Very different from Canada where the majority of people smoke clean. I was quite an anomaly in e very shop I went. It was like wearing Big Neon sign saying…I AM NOT FROM HERE. Partly, they mix for the same reason we did decades ago…. to mask the smell and also because they are buying small amounts and they want to make it go further. Like in Toronto though, e very day on my walks in Amsterdam I did smell cannabis and see people partaking. With the millions of tourists that visit Amsterdam every year, many of them visiting just to smoke cannabis. There are some enthusiasts of clean cannabis it’s just harder to find.
I have so many people to thank…. Thank You every single person in Canada who makes edibles. I must sing your praises, all you people who are providing all us patients with incredible edibles. I really did try and explain the level of quality we have. Chef created, inspired and sold edibles. Infused dinners…you should of seen the looks on peoples faces when I told them that! What about infused beverages. The only one I saw was you could get a milkshake/smoothie from the Dampkring with a THC concentrate added to it…For….15 Euro..roughly 23 Canadian dollars.
Yep people thought I was from outer space!….They have a very small edible market in terms of variety. All that is readily available are mufins and cakes. Almost all of it chocolate and most of these “Spacecakes” seem to be more commercial, standard, more mass consumption quality. When you search and talk to staff, you can ind a bit better quality and more homemade. Nothing I tasted even remotely came close to the quality and variety that we have all across Canada, also the standard way of infusing is with HASH. I didn’t see any products made with cannabutter there. I spoke to Dutch people who make the butter themselves from homegrown cannabis. But I found nothing like that at all for sale……. in the shops that I had been to. Canada is winning in the edible market.
Very, very few people even knew what the word ‘Terpenes’ was. They would talk in general terms. Sweet, earthy, spicy etc. So different from a cannabis buying experience on our side. Where the person selling the cannabis can give you all sorts of information about the strain. It is very expensive to have your cannabis tested and there are only a few places willing to do as it’s also technically illegal. So very rarely are you going to see percentages on a menu. Generally the smaller the shop the more knowledgeable the person behind the counter is. They have more pride in what they are selling.The big tourist shops that are located near Centraal Station, Red light District and Leidseplein the more expensive, lesser quality and more generic the cannabis is. The locals use little shops just a little removed from the tourist area. It’s always a good sign if you walk into a shop and all you hear is Dutch being spoken. Then you know you are in the correct place for buying cannabis. Is there a certain demographic that partakes? No! There are people from everywhere, young, old, budget conscience and high rollers. It more depends on the vibe of the coffeeshop to determine what market they are going after.
The other new development is most shops have security now. It’s a bit for checking IDs but really it’s to make sure there is no trouble outside a shop. If a coffeeshop has a violent incident outside they will be closed by police. It doesn’t matter if the incident was related to the patrons inside or outside the shop. Just the fact that something happened is enough. So to be pro active and try and protect their businesses there is a lot more visible security. Some shops near Centraal station cater to the tourists just arriving/leaving the city and will offer free luggage parking at the front of the store where there is security. There are also a lot of coffeeshops in the Red Light District. Amsterdam is one of those cities that is famous for its pickpockets. So…..Please if you go, Always remember that in Amsterdam while you are having ‘FUN’ you need to be aware of your surroundings and you always need to take precautions that you will be safe!….. Happy Tokin Travels!
Do I think Amsterdam is amazing? Yes! Worth the money to visit? Yes! For people who have never lived in a place with vapour lounges all over.
it’s so amazing to experience. From what I saw… For a vacation Amsterdam is the perfect place. Doesn’t matter where you come from you can buy and partake. In that aspect the Netherlands is winning. The amount of tourist money that is spent in that country is a huge part of their economy. Every Dutch person can grow and consume. Again that’s in their favour. The way things are in Amsterdam shows that decriminalizing cannabis is not the solution. It has to be legal all the way from the farmer to the shop. But what does Canada have that they don’t! We Have A Real Cannabis Community Beyond Belief! Every Canadian involved in this industry needs to give themselves a pat on the back. We need to keep ighting to get the Cannabis industry that we want and deserve here in Canada and not what exists in Amsterdam.