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Amsterdam drug laws

The Dutch capital may have a reputation for being laid back about lighting up, but check out the facts before making that pilgrimage for pot.

The history

In 1976, the Netherlands decriminalised possession of soft drugs such as cannabis. To cater for demand, outlets quickly cropped up in around the country, specifically in the capital, Amsterdam. These establishments are known as 'coffee shops', but most patrons don't hang out there for a caffeine fix. It's dope that floats their boat.

So am I free to get stoned?

Technically, the sale of cannabis remains an offence in Holland, and dealing in the streets remains illegal. Even so, possession of less than 30 grams for personal use carries only a minor punishment, and coffee shops are restricted to flogging no more than five grams per person. The catch is you have to be 18 or over. Smoking in public is tolerated, too, but many Brit tokers report that such a laid back attitude takes some getting used to. As a result, they prefer to remain free from all risk of coming into conflict with the law by only smoking in the coffee shop.

What about stuff like ecstasy or coke?

Coffee houses don't take kindly to punters who come in looking for something other than weed. Why? Because drug policy in the Netherlands makes a broad distinction between hard and soft drugs. Their tolerance towards soft drugs such as cannabis basically frees them up to devote more effort to counter the trade in harder substances like heroin and cocaine, and maintain addiction recovery programmes. It means no legitimate coffee shop will supply or even stock anything other than hash, so don't ask.

What's the procedure when I walk into a coffee shop?

The law forbids coffee shops to advertise the sale and availability of cannabis, which can make things a little confusing. As a Brit, you will look either a) shifty and out of your depth or b) hideously overconfident. Either way, look for a 'marijuana menu', often in booklet form, and then make a selection from there. Just don't be tempted to go for the strongest stuff on offer if you've never tried it before. Amsterdam hash has a reputation for being way stronger than Brit weed and you could wind up ruining your weekend. If in doubt, ask the staff. They'll be happy to help.

What's the deal with duty free drugs?

There is no deal. Attempting to smuggle drugs out of Holland is a criminal offence, no matter how insignificant the amount. It's no good arguing that you were bringing some home as a 'keepsake', the customs officer will be snapping on the glove in no time.

Updated: 12/04/2010


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