Remarks with regard to getting high in Amsterdam:
– When using drugs moderation is sensible, particularly when the user is not accustomed to the substance. More is not better.
– Be cautious about mixing. Alcohol in particular, when combined with other drugs, may have dangerous effects.
– Never buy drugs on the street, but always in a coffeeshop or smartshop.
– Drugs will not be sold to minors (younger than 18 years).
Amsterdam has since the Reformation been widely noted for its tolerance. Since the 1960s there has been a marked increase in tolerance in the area of drugs. An important addition to the vocabulary of government policy was in this connection the word ‘indulgence’. Selling drugs, both hard and soft, has always been prohibited, but the sale of small quantities of soft drugs, user quantities, was permitted or indulged.
At the end of the 1960s, beginning of the 1970s, small sales outlets appeared in nightlife centres like Paradiso and Melkweg, where people came to listen to music and to dance, or to meditate or enjoy a drink. The sales outlets were run by the so-called ‘house dealer’, the person ‘officially’ allowed to deal on the premises, and the fact that he was part of the establishment ensured some guarantee of quality for the products merchandized.
‘Rusland’ was the first location to be called a coffeeshop. A small café where you could drink coffee, tea or beer and where it was not culture that prevailed, but rather the dealer. Now there was a much wider range of products, rather like a grocer’s shop, where you could examine the wares, study the pricelist and while enjoying a cup of tea sample them. Within ten years every neighbourhood had its own, generally unremarkable coffeeshops. One coffeeshop has however stood out since the 1980s: the Bulldog, with an outlet at Leidseplein.
While the coffeeshops remained in the business of soft drugs, hashish and marihuana, the smartshops that started to open their doors in the 1990s specialized in psychedelic substances and then in particular mushrooms. The personnel also provided information on how to use them.
As well as the smartshops many more growshops emerged at that same time, shops that appealed to the ‘grower’ in the user. The emphasis here was more on personal cultivation of marihuana, called Nederweed or Nederwiet. While Nederwiet had in the 1970s been for years just a hobby plant, something to grow on your veranda, for fun and something that you had to use a lot of to obtain any effect, with the increasing number of growers cultivation became a serious activity and growers started to aim for improved quality. The growshops developed into small garden centres with advanced instruments designed to create indoors the optimum climate for the young plants. ‘Indoors’ became more and more often an illegally used basement or squat where the huge lighting installations designed to force growth ran on illegally sourced power. Nederweed has now become a heavy soft drug with a high THC level.
Public discussion is frequent and intense as to whether (soft) drugs should be indulged or not, prohibited or legalized. Certainly in Amsterdam there has always been a strong body of opinion for the legalization of soft drugs. The separation of soft drugs from hard drugs has always been a prominent argument, in all cases supported by the implicit separation of crime and poor quality on the one hand and a controllable and controlled soft drugs market on the other hand. There is some uncertainty as to whether smartshops will be prohibited. It is very likely that Amsterdam will in this case adopt its very own policy of indulgence and that it will be very different from national policy.
It is a misconception to imagine that residents of Amsterdam sit down to breakfast high, then jump on their bikes with a joint, to then meet their boss blowing and to continue their day puffing merrily along. The reason that the discussion about indulgence keeps raising its head and that many have outspoken opinions has mainly to do with the fact that the people of Amsterdam are somewhat anarchic by temperament.