In all accuracy, Amsterdam offers far more than 50 shades. I think it might actually have every shade. We're talking every shape, size, smell, and potency around - any marijuana variety a person might want seems to be available in the city.
During our first hour there, Nathan and I got minor thrills each time we came across one of the notorious coffee shops. "There's one!" "That's one there." "That's one too." "No, honey, that's a Starbucks," he said.
However, by the time we'd made our way to our flat, we'd got the picture: the shops were everywhere. They range from dungeon-like, graffiti-covered, seriously dodgy-looking holes to bright and airy places with plasma TVs, foosball tables, and bean bags.
Menus at the shops also vary, and among the names I saw (through the windows) were "Amnesia Haze", "New York Diesel", and "Super Pollum (sweet taste, clear high)". As our Busabout guide, Ben, put it: "Yes, you can probably go up to the counter and order a mellow high to start the night, and end the party with two unicorns."
I did my research before our visit, checking up with a fellow New Zealander about (hypothetically) where one would go for drugs, and what one would ask for. She said the key was to look for "coffee shop", as opposed to "cafe". Good advice, though I imagine requesting weed at Starbucks would have been a good story.
Another thing she pointed out was that, though it's common in Amsterdam, for tourists the whole ordering pot thing seems dodgy, so some coffee shops have played into that, having things like marijuana menus that pop up when you push a button and so on.
Amsterdam is also home to the Marijuana Museum, that's where we got that delightful photo you see at the top of the blog (it looks so real!).
The museum irritated me. I'm on the fence about whether cannabis should be legalised, but the museum gave such a blatant one-sided story, stating questionable facts about how great the drug is. Perhaps that's true, but I'm betting the other side of the argument has some basis too.
Nathan (the substantially more chilled out member of our party) just laughed at me and said "Well yeah, it is propaganda. Who really cares?" Fair play.
Now Ben was a wee bit of a walking DARE programme (Drug Abuse Resistance Education, for the non-1990s schoolchildren), but he did provide some unexpected information. He advised us that cannabis is actually illegal in The Netherlands, and people might want to take that into account when they made "decisions".
(I do just want to add here that Ben was hilarious, and laughed at the fact that he wasn't the best person to go into Amsterdam with. "Yeah, I'm a bit of a Debbie-downer.")
Anyway. My whole belief system about Amsterdam was "legal marijuana" so this news came as a surprise.
Apparently cannabis possession for personal use can still earn you a fine, though it's tolerated. I also learned that all that banning-weed-for-tourists thing I had read about wasn't just hot air - apparently a law will kick in next year that means only Dutch citizens will be able go to the coffee shops.
Judging by the number of stoned travellers we saw, I'd argue that that's going to hurt the tourism industry badly. There's far more to Amsterdam than the coffee shops (e.g. Anne Frank's house, the Van Gogh Museum, the canals), but I think drugs are a pretty big drawcard. What about you? Is the prospect of getting high in Amsterdam a big attraction for you to go to the city?
Should it be illegal for tourists to smoke pot there?
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