What’s the future for Amsterdam’s coffee shops?
Over for The Stone Roses gig in Amsterdam, sitting in the red light area’s coffee shops before the gig its business as usual, packed as always with people from all around the world. Many a roses fan could be spotted around the ‘Rosseburt’ (as the locals call it) hanging in the bars and the coffee shops enjoying a pre gig smoke, even Ian Brown was spotted walking along the main strip the night before the gig, maybe off to his fave coffee shop, who knows. But right now the days of nipping over to the ‘Dam’ and smoking at will could soon be a thing of the past.
As we all know Amsterdam’s coffee shops are facing proposed new laws that are looking to end the easy going trade of cannabis. This coming September Dutch elections will determine the changes but what these changes will be no one knows, not even the coffee shop workers. It’s no surprise that the Dutch want limit drug tourism as it attracts harder drugs and the dealers that go with it but they also face losing millions in trade and creating a new black market in the process if these shops are done away with or even strictly regulated.
The origins of the Dutch’s tolerance to cannabis goes back to the Provo movement in the 60’s which was set up to challenge the Dutch authorities, but in a non violent way, this movement was also followed by the mass hippie scene of the 60’s which supported Provo for rights to smoke weed even though Provo’s founder Robert Jasper Grootveld was an anti smoking activist. but it’s from this the smoking of cannabis became first tolerated by Dutch authorities and went on to eventually establish its own area as the red-light in the cities capital along with other shops that opened around Holland. But it was the surge of heroin and the street dealers that provoked the authorities to start cleaning up the red light, not so much bothered about tourists eating muffins, listening to reggae and getting stoned but such places as ‘Junkie ally’ and other hard drug hot spots and ‘no go’ area’s. Now it’s the turn of the coffee shops themselves to face changes that could make freely visiting the shops and buying weed a thing of the past.
Talking to a coffee shop worker he explained that Holland used to have over 800 coffee shops to which they only have 600 and in Amsterdam its self there are now 200 coffee shops where it used to house 400 hundred…and went on to say;
“To be honest I don’t really see how they think this is going to be a successful change, they actually want to get rid of the coffee shops and the red-light altogether and this is kinda like phase 1 right now where they are privatising them then after that there looking to close another 50% of the coffee shops. but what they are failing to understand is that the people here don’t just smoke weed, they run our hostels, hotels, the bars, the attractions and all the shops in the area so really there looking at losing a good couple of billion a year through the changes they propose, never mind putting people out of work”
But wont people still, at the end of the day come here looking for a smoke?
“Yeah of course, even now in the south of Holland where they have already put these changes in place the number of street dealers has literally gone through the roof, having turf wars over which spots they want to control and people are turning up looking to buy weed in the middle of it all, the dealers see a car with French plates or German plates and they know what they’re there for and they literally fight over themselves as to who is dealing to them, it’s a scary scene“.
The Dutch will still be able to buy weed though, wont they
“Yes but even then they will have to register to a coffee shop, and only one coffee shop at that, but like you say there will be still tourists looking to buy weed as well which in one way I could see as a way of making some extra cash. If a tourist asks me for weed I can charge to purchase it for them so no matter what the authorities do weed will still be bought, sold and smoked here in Amsterdam”
Known for their quality weed and its cool vibe The Green House is one of the coffee shops where many visiting bands artists and make their way too when over touring, not surprising as they don’t even have to purchase any weed as its all on the house, on the wall at the back are pictures of some of the people who have visited like Mike Tyson, Pink, Paris Hilton and even The Sugar Babes, one Green House worker stopped to chat;
Must be great getting touring artists and actors visiting The Green House, Cypress Hill were in here last week weren’t they?
“Yeah, I served Cypress Hill last Tuesday, great guys, Woody Harrelson is probably the nicest and funniest guy I’ve ever met, the rapper Exhibit was also really good and enjoys smoking here. we get boy bands and people you wouldn’t really expect to find in a red-light coffee shop smoking weed but In Amsterdam people aren’t so star struck so it’s easy for them to come in and relax, it’s a perk of the job meeting and serving these people and makes it real interesting working here, you never know who’s going to come through those doors. The one person I missed this year and was rather disappointed about was Rihanna, she was actually staying near my apartment as well but I only found out when she left. In Amsterdam people aren’t very star struck so it’s easy for them to come in and relax”
I’m right in saying that they don’t pay for their weed, do they?
“Yes well for us it’s all about Pro Cannabis, they like to smoke and we sell it so it makes sense if they’re into their weed and they enjoy coming here, they’ll tell their friends which is what we want, so it’s good for us and them as we can’t advertise any other way. It’s hard to know though when they are coming as they rarely ring ahead but our owner is a really keen business man, he likes to make friends with the right people and he makes sure they know they will be very welcome at The Green House, to get these people through the door is all we can really do to promote the business but saying that we always aim for everyone to enjoy their time here at The Green House“.
So how do you feel about the proposed changes to the coffee shops?
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen, hopefully the coffee shops come together to challenge these new changes and will continue to provide the service they have done for many years now. In Amsterdam there’s no problem, there’s always going to be cannabis sold and smoked in the coffee shops but with a lot more rules and a lot more regulation which will be all new, all this time it’s been an enterprise business but now it’s looking to be turned into a franchise which is wrong because a franchise is tied down to so many rules, they have basically let people through the years run their own enterprise business but now they want to change it all around, the way they want to do it is all wrong really“.
It’s not just us Brits travelling over but fellow Europeans as well who have been enjoying the freedom of visiting Amsterdam and sampling its wares, like a chap from Belgium who explains how the now closed coffee shops on the border of Belgium and Holland have forced him and his friends to now travel to Amsterdam its self to buy weed;
“Coming from where I live in Belgium its a 5 hour trip, you can do it in 1 day but we used to get our weed from the cities close to the Belgium border but now of course they have all been closed down. Back then we could just jump in the car, go over the border, score some weed and be back in our homes in a couple of hours max. It’s always been the same for me and my friends as when were about 16 yrs old we would bike to a very small town on the very edges of the Dutch border, 25,000 inhabitants which is very small but it had 4 coffee shops for the whole town which sold quality weed but now they are closed down. I’ve seen the changes take effect already and now if I want to come and smoke I have to travel to Amsterdam which many people from the border towns now have to do.”
What do you think to the regulations themselves with only Dutch people being able to register at the coffee shops?
“I know some Dutch people who live in Antwerp but even for them to register to buy weed under the new regulations they would have to move back to Holland, you need that document that says you are an inhabitant. But that aside it goes right against the laws of the European Union because they are meant to be about free travel in Europe where you can visit every shop and establishment without questions asked, if you have a passport it means you should be able to do that so Holland’s proposed coffee shop rule is going to be one of the first rules that makes a distinction between people using coffee shops. One particular product will only be exclusively allowed for one nationality which goes against the idea of enterprise in Europe and what the European Government stand for, it’s like Belgium declaring they will only sell Belgium beer to its own people and no one else, that’s when it starts to fall apart, it’s wrong“.
So the future of the coffee shops and there right to sell cannabis are still to be decided, these proposed changes backed by the far right party of anti immigration who came into power under a coalition last year and spearheaded by politician Geert Wilders are determined to curb drug tourism as part of a nationwide program to promote health and fighting crime, will these changes come in, what will they be and what’s the future for Amsterdam’s red-light area and more preciously its coffee shops and the selling of cannabis, who knows….?
Until September’s elections no one is really sure but the Amsterdam that many have visited and enjoyed over the years could soon become a thing of the past.