Over for The Stone Roses gig in Amsterdam, sitting in the red light area's coffee shops before the gig its business as usual - packed as always with people from all around the world kicking back. Many Roses fans could be spotted around the 'Rosseburt' (as the locals call it) hanging in the bars and the coffee shops enjoying a pre gig smoke. Even Ian Brown was spotted walking along the main strip the night before the gig, maybe off to his favourite coffee shop. It’s a scene that will be familiar to millions, but the days of nipping over to the 'Dam' and smoking at will could soon be a thing of the past.
As you may know Amsterdam's coffee shops are facing proposed new laws that are looking to end the easy going trade of cannabis. This September's Dutch elections will determine the changes but what these changes would be no one yet knows. It’s no surprise that the Dutch want to limit drug tourism as it attracts harder drugs and the dealers that go with it, but they also face losing millions in trade and creating a new black market in the process if these shops are done away with or even strictly regulated.
The origins of the Dutch's tolerance to cannabis goes back to the Provo movement in the 60s which was set up to challenge the Dutch authorities, but in a non violent way. This movement was also followed by the mass hippie scene of the 60s which supported Provo for rights to smoke weed, even though Provo's founder Robert Jasper Grootveld was an anti smoking activist. It was from this that the smoking of cannabis became first tolerated by Dutch authorities and went on to eventually establish its own area along with other shops that opened around Holland. But it was the surge of heroin and the street dealers that provoked the authorities to start cleaning up the red light, not so much bothered about tourists eating muffins, listening to reggae and getting stoned but such places as 'Junkie ally' and other 'no go' areas. Now it’s the turn of the coffee shops themselves to face changes that could make freely visiting the shops and buying weed soon off limits to everyone but the Dutch themselves.
I spoke to someone from the red light area’s Cannabis College who, after explaining that Holland now has only 600 coffee shops (with Amsterdam down to 200), put forth their views on the proposed changes…
The days of nipping over to the 'Dam' and smoking at will could soon be a thing of the past.
"To be honest I don't really see how they think this is going to be a successful change, they actually want to get rid of the coffee shops and the red-light altogether and this is kinda like phase 1 right now where they are privatising them, then after that there looking to close another 50% of the coffee shops. But what they are failing to understand is that the people here don't just smoke weed, they run our hostels, hotels, the bars, the attractions and all the shops in the area so really there looking at losing a good couple of billion a year through the changes they propose, never mind putting people out of work"
But wont people still, at the end of the day come here looking for a smoke?
"Yeah of course, even now in the south of Holland where they have already put these changes in place the number of street dealers has literally gone through the roof, having turf wars over which spots they want to control and people are turning up looking to buy weed in the middle of it all, the dealers see a car with French plates or German plates and they know what they're there for and they literally fight between themselves as to who is dealing to them, its a scary scene".
The Dutch will still be able to buy weed with the new regulations though, wont they
"Yes but even then they will have to register to a coffee shop, and only one coffee shop at that, but like you say there will be still tourists looking to buy weed as well which in one way I could see as a way of making some extra cash. If a tourist asks me for weed I can charge to purchase it for them so no matter what the authorities do weed will still be bought, sold and smoked here in Amsterdam"
Known for their quality weed and cool vibe 'The Green House' is one of the coffee shops where many visiting bands and artists make there way to when touring, which is not surprising as they don't even have to purchase their smoke as it’s all on the house. On the wall at the back of the shop are pictures of some of the 'stars' who have visited, like Mike Tyson, Pink, Paris Hilton and even The Sugababes. Here’s what one employee told me…
Must be great getting touring artists and actors visiting The Green House, Cypress Hill were in here last week weren't they
"Yeah, I served Cypress Hill last Tuesday, great guys. Woody Harrelson is probably the nicest and funniest guy I’ve ever met, rapper X-Zibit was also really good and enjoys smoking here. We get boy bands and people you wouldn't really expect to find in a red-light coffee shop smoking weed but In Amsterdam people aren't so star struck so its easy for them to come in and relax. It’s a perk of the job meeting and serving these people and makes it real interesting working here. You never know who's going to come through those doors. The one person I missed this year and was rather disappointed about was Rihanna, she was actually staying near my apartment as well but I only found out when she left.
I'm right in saying that they don't pay for their weed, do they
"Well for us its all about Pro Cannabis, they like to smoke and we sell it so it makes sense if they're into their weed and they enjoy coming here to Amsterdam, and then hopefully they'll tell their friends which is what we want. So its good for us and them as we cant advertise any other way. It’s hard to know though when they are coming as they rarely ring ahead but our owner is a really keen business man, he likes to make friends with the right people and he makes sure they know they will be very welcome at The Green House. To get these people through the door is all we can really do to promote the business but saying that we always aim for everyone to enjoy there time here at The Green House".
We get boy bands and people you wouldn't really expect to find in a red-light coffee shop smoking weed but In Amsterdam people aren't so star struck so its easy for them to come in and relax.
So how do you feel about the proposed changes to the coffee shops
"I really don't know what’s going to happen, hopefully the coffee shops come together to challenge these new changes and will continue to provide the service they have done for many years now. In Amsterdam there's no problem, there's always going to be cannabis sold and smoked in the coffee shops but with a lot more rules and a lot more regulation which will be all new. All this time it’s been an enterprise business but now it’s looking to be turned into a franchise, which is wrong because a franchise is tied down to so many rules. They have basically let people through the years run their own enterprise businesses but now they want to change it all around, the way they want to do it is all wrong really".
Fellow Europeans who also enjoy the freedom of visiting Amsterdam's coffee shops are as unhappy at the proposed changes, like this chap from Belgium who explains how the now closed coffee shops on the border of Belgium and Holland have forced him and his friends to now travel to Amsterdam to buy cannabis;
"Coming from where I live in Belgium its a 5 hour trip, you can do it in 1 day but we used to get our weed from the cities close to the Belgium border but now of course they have all been closed down. Back then we could just jump in the car, go over the border, score some weed and be back in our homes in a couple of hours max. Its always been the same for me and my friends as when were about 16 yrs old we would bike to a very small town on the very edges of the Dutch border, 25,000 inhabitants which is very small but it had 4 coffee shops for the whole town which sold quality weed but now they are closed down. I've seen the changes take effect already and now if I want to come and smoke I have to travel to Amsterdam which many people from the border towns now have to do."
What do you think to the proposed regulations, with only Dutch people being able to register at the coffee shops?
"I know some Dutch people who live in Antwerp but even for them to register to buy weed under the new regulations they would have to move back to Holland, you need that document that says you are an inhabitant. But that aside it goes right against the laws of the European Union because they are meant to be about free travel in Europe where you can visit every shop and establishment without questions asked, if you have a passport it means you should be able to do that so Holland’s proposed coffee shop rule is going to be one of the first rules that makes a distinction between people using coffee shops. One particular product will only be exclusively allowed for one nationality which goes against the idea of enterprise in Europe and what the European Government stand for, its like Belgium declaring they will only sell Belgium beer to its own people and no one else, that's when it starts to fall apart, its wrong".
So the future of the coffee shops and their right to sell cannabis is still to be decided, these proposed changes backed by the far right party of anti immigration who came into power under a coalition last year and spearheaded by politician Greet Wilders are determined to curb drug tourism as part of a nationwide program to promote health and fighting crime. Until September’s elections, nobody can be sure of the impact upon one of the world’s great cities, but if you haven’t been to Amsterdam and want to see it at close to its legendary best, then now would be a good time to go…
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