Amsterdam Falling: New European Pot Capital Needed

Amsterdam, coffeeshop, pot travel
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If you care about smoking marijuana in Amsterdam, as many generations of Americans before you have done, we have bad news: Amsterdam doesn’t care about you, or anyone else who wants to make a pilgrimage to a cannabis coffee shop before they die.

While the speed of the decline has slowed somewhat, Holland’s cannabis cafes continue to die a slow death. Another 18 marijuana coffee shops have closed across the country over the past two years—including Amsterdam’s oldest, according to NL News.

As the Telegraph reported last December, as part of a nationwide crackdown on the country’s internationally famous weed trade, Amsterdam has begun closing coffee shops deemed too close to a school. This led the country’s oldest coffee shop, the Mellow Yellow, to close in January—because it was 250 meters away from a hairdressing academy, whose students were over 18 and thus potential customers, the coffee shop’s former proprietor claimed.

Not that coffeeshops are exactly at risk of becoming extinct.

There are still 573 outlets licensed to sell cannabis in Holland, according to figures released July 5 by Stef Blok, the country’s justice minister. Thirty percent of all Dutch coffeeshops, or 173, are in Amsterdam.

Allow us, for a second, to posit a radical notion: If the coffeeshops do go away, it won’t be all that bad. In an era when marijuana legalization is gaining momentum around the world, Amsterdam shouldn’t be seen as a model to follow. If anything, Amsterdam was merely making the best out of a bad situation.

Marijuana isn’t legalized in Holland—it’s merely decriminalized, with no police penalty for personal use and consumption. For perspective’s sake: Sex work is outright legal in Amsterdam.

We try not to be prudish, and we believe in a sex-positive world, but we’re puritanical enough to suggest there’s something amiss in a place where prostitution is legal in a place and pot isn’t. Shouldn’t it be both? 

Regardless, coffee shops’ indulgence is the sort of half-measure cannabis users have come to expect and accept as the best they can hope for.

And Dutch officials aren’t encouraging the marijuana industry. With the introduction of the “Weed Pass,” only Dutch nationals will be allowed inside coffeeshops—a prohibition so far resisted in Amsterdam.

If anything, cannabis use in Amsterdam should be encouraged.

According to a survey released in June, the use of “hard drugs”—defined, in this context, as cocaine, amphetamine and ecstasy—is on the rise. As studies in the U.S. and elsewhere have demonstrated, where marijuana is available, opiate use goes down. If coffee shops can be either fully legalized or replaced with something that enjoys full parity, it would be a good thing.

In the meantime, America is on notice to get its own act together.

As we’ve reported before, there really isn’t an “Amsterdam of America” or anywhere else—despite an overwhelming belief to the contrary. Shortly before the first recreational marijuana sale in Nevada, a state senator described Las Vegas as the “Amsterdam of America,” despite the total absence of any public place where marijuana use is legal.

The story is the same across the country.

Nearly five years after Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana, there are no legal “cannabis cafes” in America. (A few medical-cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco have consumption lounges, but you have to be a medical patient, and they don’t offer amenities like food and drink like a cafe should.)

Denver is only now getting its act together, but the glacial pace and onerous restrictions—no alcohol sold where marijuana is smoked, and no on-site marijuana sales where weed is smoked, either—may mean that the only businesses that can qualify for a license to allow on-site weed smoking won’t bother.

In Oregon, a proposed bill in the state senate that would have allowed the state liquor board (which also regulates cannabis) the ability to license cannabis lounges and private events failed to pass.

This conundrum has meant years of missed opportunities—and prevailing confusion.

“We have a lot of people come in thinking Portland is like Amsterdam,” according to Sean Wilson, who owns Portland, Oregon-based marijuana dispensary Ascend, in comments to the local Willamette Week. “They think they can just go to a coffee shop and smoke, and we have to tell them no, that’s not the case.”

But at least they can buy their weed with full protection of the law. That’s one concept even Amsterdam can’t quite master.

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