Amsterdam is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe- a city famous for its canals, its museums, its history and, well, it’s weed. Except, it turns out the common idea that marijuana is legal in the Netherlands isn’t accurate at all. This is despite the fact that an estimated 25-30% of all tourists to the country visit one of its famous “coffeeshops”. And for a little clarity here, when we talk about “coffeeshops” in Amsterdam, we don’t mean places that you go to because you want coffee…
In the Netherlands, if you want coffee, you go to a cafe or a coffee house. If you want pot, you got to a coffeeshop, which are called this primarily as these establishments are not allowed to explicitly advertise their wares. Thus, one of the first such “coffeeshops”, Mellow Yellow, was publicly a tea house. Other similar establishments soon popped up in the 1970s, generally publicly advertising themselves as coffeeshops, which soon became the accepted way to advertise an establishment that sold pot.
Now, as stated earlier, despite what you might think, and the smell on the street near these establishments, pot is not legal in the Netherlands. So how did these shops have the audacity to open in the first place? That’s thanks to gedoogbeleid, which literally translates to “policy of tolerance”.
You see, in response to a sharp rise in drug use in the 1960s, the Dutch, initially, like many other countries did their best to curtail such usage. But thanks to a general attitude that people should be allowed to do what they wish with their bodies and health, in the late 1960s and early 1970s the Public Prosecutor’s office decided to switch the focus, distinguishing between so-called “soft” and “hard” drugs in terms of what to focus on in their prosecution.
In a nutshell, the idea here was that while laws may make something illegal, it’s not always in the public interest to enforce every law. In this case, the 1972 Baan Committee report determined that prosecuting marijuana usage had a greater negative impact on the general public than simply allowing its use. Thus, the Dutch government began to take more of a relaxed attitude towards soft drugs, leading to the policy of tolerance, gedoogbeleid, that officially emerged in the 1970s.
Among the benefits here are that it allows the government to better regulate the distribution and use of certain drugs, earn money via taxation, keep more people out of prison, and save money on expensive prosecution that has little benefit, while still allowing people the freedom to do what they want with their own bodies.
Thus, officially, according to the Netherlands government website, “the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is a criminal offence but the Public Prosecution Service does not prosecute coffee shops for this offence. Neither does the Public Prosecution Service prosecute members of the public for possession of small quantities of soft drugs.”
As to those small quantities, the general rules that were developed whereby the police and courts will turn a blind eye to any marijuana activities are that individuals can possess:
- “no more than 5 grams of cannabis”
- Nor more than 5 cannabis plants
It should be noted here, however, that the government site still states that police are allowed to seize any cannabis plants they find…
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