Coffeeshop (Netherlands)  

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Cannabis coffee shops in the Netherlands, are places where the sale of cannabis (marijuana) for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities.

A Dutch establishment advertising itself as a coffeeshop is likely to be primarily in the business of selling cannabis products and possibly other substances which are tolerated (in Dutch: "gedoogd") under the drug policy of the Netherlands. A koffiehuis would be more like a US coffee shop, whilst a café is the equivalent of a bar.

In the Netherlands, the selling of cannabis is "illegal, but not punishable", so the law is not enforced in establishments following these nationwide rules:

  • no advertising
  • no hard drug sales on the premises
  • no sales to minors (people under the age of 18)
  • no sales transactions exceeding a quantity threshold (5 grams)
  • no public disturbances

Coffeeshops are obliged to register each sale, some maintain a database of customers complete with ID cards. Such measures allow the police to closely monitor their adherence to the above restrictions.

For some offences, a business may be forced to close for three months, for others, completely; all this is detailed in official policies. There is an on-going contradiction, as a coffeeshop is allowed to sell cannabis, but not to buy it: "The front door is open, but the backdoor is illegal." There are proposals for remedying this situation (as of January, 2006), e.g. by controlled growing of hemp to replace imports.

At least two coffee shops, De Dampkring and The Greenhouse Centrum, are also licensed for liquor, with the notion that the sale of cannabis is to happen at a different counter (though it may be smoked at the bar). Most coffee shops advertise, and the constraint is more moderating than outright prohibitive. In a charming gesture of discretion still technically required, many coffee shops keep the cannabis menu below the counter, even when the cannabis itself is in more-or-less plain view. Dutch coffee shops often fly red-yellow-green Ethiopian flags or other symbols of the Rastafari movement to indicate that they sell cannabis, as a consequence of the official ban on direct advertising. This aesthetic attracted many public artists who get commissions to create murals in the coffee shops and use the Rastafari and reggae related imagery to provoke public discussion about racial and multicultural issues.

Any shop selling soft drugs to minors or selling hard drugs at all is immediately closed. These institutions provide non-contaminated (and hence relatively safe) cannabis products, which may not be true of dealers acting illegally. Cannabis and any food products containing cannabis are generally clearly identified to prevent accidental consumption.

Each municipality has a coffee shop policy. For some this is a "zero policy", i.e., they do not allow any. Most of such municipalities are either controlled by strict Protestant parties, or are bordering Belgium and Germany and simply do not wish to receive "drug tourism" from those countries. A March 19, 2005 article in the Observer noted that the number of Dutch cannabis coffee shops had dropped from 1,500 to 750 over the previous five years, largely due to pressure from the conservative coalition government.[1] The "no-growth" policies of many Dutch cities affect new licensing. This policy slowly reduces the number of coffeeshops, since no one can open a new one after a closure.

In nearby Denmark the coffeeshops of Freetown Christiania were abolished in 2005 or 2006, as part of the wider issues involved with Free Christiania.

Despite Canadian laws forbidding its non-medical use, some cities and local law enforcement have, at times, tolerated coffee shops which encourage customers to smoke cannabis. In Vancouver, for example, the New Amsterdam and Blunt Brothers were cafes on West Hastings Street with such pro-cannabis policies in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Currently there is one coffee/head shop that has a bring-your-own policy and their own set of rules in Toronto's Kensington Market.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Coffeeshop (Netherlands)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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