Puff marijuana, not tobacco in Holland’s coffee shops

Article published on June 23, 2008
Article published on June 23, 2008
The anti-smoking law takes effect from 1 July in The Netherlands

Dutch purists can breathe a sigh of relief: from 1 July onwards the smoking ban will take effect, even in The Netherlands’ famous coffee-shops. From this date onward, only marijuana will be allowed to be consumed - and only in its pure form. Cannabis amateurs have no more than a few days to peacefully smoke their joints in the coffee-shops of Amsterdam. From 1 July 2008, a law forbidding smoking in all eating establishments and in some 750 coffee-shops will be introduced in The Netherlands.

Hash and marijuana release less smoke

The new law forbids smoking tobacco and joints containing tobacco in coffee-shops, restaurants and cafés. Hash and marijuana meanwhile, can still be smoked in their pure form - that is, without tobacco. These cigarettes release less smoke and more importantly, they are not as damaging to your health as plain old tobacco cigarettes. According to observations by coffee-shop workers, only 18% of clients on average smoke joints without mixing tobacco into them. Pure marijuana would be too strong for most consumers…

Loss of profit?

The Netherlands’ national association of coffee-shops is trying in vain to obtain an exception to the rule for their establishments. Any future infractions of this law will of course be severely punished. A fine will be issues with the first warning. After five, the establishment must close its doors. However, coffee-shop owners do not want things to go this far. If the size of the coffee-shop allows it, they plan to create a smoking area.

In a letter to the association, the Dutch health minister, Ab Klink of the Christian democrat party, replied: ‘Coffee-shop employees have as much of a right as any other employee to be protected from the consequences of cigarette smoke.’ Will this threaten the existence of coffee-shops? ‘No way!’ exclaims Martijn van Bennekom, owner of the first non-smoking coffee-shop in The Netherlands.

‘I haven’t smoked joints for nine months'

Boerejongens, one of the approximately 225 coffee-shops in Amsterdam, has adhered to the new rule since 1 February. ‘I haven’t smoked joints for nine months and I think it’s great to no longer have to be surrounded by smoke all day,’ explains Van Bennekom. He says there are no disadvantages. As 90% of his customers are locals, they buy their marijuana at Boerejongens, but prefer to smoke at home.

Vaporiser: one shot

At Mellow Yellow, which opened its doors in 1972, owner Mike van Duyn isn’t worried either. Up to 2, 000 customers each day squeeze into the very first coffee-shop in The Netherlands: ‘Tourists will continue to come to our coffee-shop. After two months at the most, everyone will get used to it,’ the boss claims.

From now on, the get-arounds and tricks will be countless. For example, the ‘Vaporiser’ is a great alternative to smoking joints, according to various coffee-shop workers. In this contraption, the hash or marijuana is heated to 180 degrees and the steam goes into a balloon. Then, the customers can inhale the vapour contained in the ‘Ballonntje’. It is the ‘healthiest’ alternative way to consume hashish and marijuana, and it’s no more expensive than a joint.

European movement

'Amsterdam has more to offer than other European capitals'

‘It’s a growing trend,’ says Giermo, who works at Greenhouse. He has nothing negative to say about the anti-smoking law for coffee-shops. On the contrary, Giermo doesn’t believe that minister Klink is hiding behind the new law. ‘The EU is putting pressure on the Dutch government. Almost all European countries already have a smoking ban or are about to introduce one. So The Netherlands are now obliged to follow this movement.’ (For more on this subject, see our article on Prague’s resistance to these laws).

What do tourists think? Three Swiss youngsters who have been visiting coffee-shops every day during their stay in Amsterdam say they are really annoyed by the ban. But despite all this, they will come back for holidays after 1st July. ‘We will spend less time in coffee-shops. But, no matter what happens, Amsterdam has more to offer than joints: more to offer than other European capitals.’