Lets get something out of way right now: I didn’t try cannabis in Amsterdam. I have tried it before. At least I think I have. A friend had some pot that we rolled in tissue paper, but it did nothing for me at all and looking back it may have been grass cuttings from the lawn mower. I was 17 and wouldn’t have known the difference.
Since then, I haven’t been tempted by cannabis or any other drug. I don’t even like taking painkillers for a headache. But when I booked an overnight stay in Amsterdam, I considered indulging. Perhaps not smoking it, as I really can’t stand the smell, but a space cake sure looked tempting. (Anything with chocolate right?) I tossed the idea around in my head before I got to the city and was pretty sure I would skip it. But then I did a walking tour that discussed cannabis use in The Netherlands and the coffeeshops and my internal debate reignited.
If I, as anti-drug as I am, was thinking about trying cannabis in Amsterdam, surely thousands of tourists face the same dilemma. I doubt it’s a dilemma for people who are even just occasional users of marijuana. They would be finding themselves in one of the few places in the world where they can light up (almost) legally. But I have a hard time believing that more than a third of visitors to the city are even occasional pot smokers (that’s the percentage of tourists that visit a coffeeshop while in Amsterdam).
So why do people try marijuana in Amsterdam?
You won’t get arrested
Cannabis isn’t legal in The Netherlands, but it is tolerated. As long as you purchase it in a licensed coffeeshop, you aren’t at risk of being arrested or given so much as a stern talking to. People who may walk the straight line of the law at home find themselves with a little bit of freedom to indulge thanks to Holland’s tolerance of soft drugs. As long as you’re over 18, you can buy and consume cannabis in Holland.
It can be safer
The staff at Amsterdam’s coffeeshops know their stuff, or so I’ve heard. I didn’t experience it personally, but was told that in a good coffeeshop, the staff will discuss your history with cannabis and suggest a type and amount that would be best for you. Hats are banned in coffeeshops, partly so you can be easily identified by security cameras if there’s any trouble, but also so staff can keep an eye on how you’re reacting to the drug. This kind of environment sure beats the risks involved when a friend of a friend offers you some at a party and everyone around you is already stoned. In a coffeeshop, there will be someone on hand to help if you need it. Keep in mind, some are tourist traps and have a reputation for selling poor-quality cannabis. If you want to give it a go, ask around first. I did a walking tour and my guide pointed out the best places in the city.
It’s the thing to do
You know the saying “When in Rome”? Well “When in Amsterdam…” This is the clincher and why I bet so many people who wouldn’t even think about touching a joint at home find themselves digging into a space cake (brownie with cannabis) in Amsterdam. The coffeeshop scene is a big part of Amsterdam’s image as a tourist destination. Smoking pot in Amsterdam could be considered as culturally significant as eating a croissant in Paris or a pizza in Naples. It’s the thing to do in the city. There’s also plenty of encouragement. If you’re sitting on the fence, a visit to Cannabis College will probably send you flying over the railing and into the nearest coffeeshop. There’s only so much talk of the health benefits of cannabis one can take before swaying a little bit.
So should you?
I would never suggest that anyone should try drugs. However, most of you, at some point, either have or will.
If I had never tried cannabis and was perhaps a bit younger (and at that age where I think I should try everything once) I probably would have visited a coffeeshop. If I was going to try it just once in my life, having that experience in Amsterdam would have been a great travel memory. Having someone to talk me through it and educate me about the drug, the varieties, the effects etc, would have been a lot better than rolling up my friend’s weed in tissue paper.
However, I’ve tried it and I don’t like it, so I didn’t see the point of trying it again in Amsterdam just because it was something I should do. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my travels it’s that you need to find your own “must-dos” in a destination and not feel obliged to follow every guidebook suggestion.
Did you visit a coffeeshop in Amsterdam? Would you?