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A Primer on How to Enjoy Weed Safely in the Netherlands

The Story of Dutch Weed Policy

The Dutch get tourists from all over the world and each traveler brings in their specific culture and value systems with them. In a progressive society like the Netherlands, sometimes these very different ideas can cause visitors offense, confusion, or even conflict with the natives.

One of the most controversial ideas is gedoogbeleid: the tolerance of recreational marijuana use for personal consumption, which has been a Dutch policy for half a century. But lately, the world seems to have changed its attitude towards this compelling plant, so this blog is to inform and discuss the latest trends in drug policy for Holland.

50 Years of Tolerance

In the 1970s, the heroin problem in Northern Europe was severe – so severe that ‘hard’ drug use was reclassified as a serious crime while ‘soft drugs’ like weed, hash, and mushrooms were decriminalized in the Netherlands. Since then, the country has been split on the ruling, though no one can deny that by the late 80s Dutch hard drug use had gone down substantially.

By the turn of the 21st century, the ‘tolerance’ policy took many forms around the Netherlands, and each city adopted a slightly different version of it. This meant in some areas only residents could buy pot while for others it was widely available. Some towns offered take-away weed only while others allowed consumption in-store. Still other ‘coffeeshops’ required a picture ID, while many did not – so there was no consistency between regions. This reality caused a lot of headaches for police, law-abiding tourists, and residents and unfortunately this is still the case today.

Just the Facts

To clarify the current situation, here are some need-to-know facts about the ‘green’ industry of Holland.

1) Pot isn’t legal, it’s just tolerated.

If you calmly buy some weed or a joint and smoke it in the local park you won’t get hassled at all. But if you get drunk, cause trouble or become obnoxious about it you’re pushing your luck. The more attention you draw to yourself with raised voices, loud music, physical aggression or a flamboyant personality – the more likely you are to cause problems for yourself. Almost all Dutch towns have a low threshold when it comes to bad behavior, especially from tourists – so behave.

2) All coffeeshops have regulations.

Real-world conformity is another matter. The law states 5 grams can be purchased per guest per visit and you must be 18. Moreover, some coffeeshops require a Dutch ID and don’t serve foreigners, so be sure to ask. Also, many shops outside Amsterdam are take-away only and forbid loitering nearby.

3) All Dutch people aren’t potheads.

Don’t look to meet locals or party hard with your new Dutch friends here, only 25% have even tried cannabis if surveys are to be believed. Understand that smoking herb is basically a tourist thing, notwithstanding musicians and artists!

Your Marijuana Guide by Area

As of the summer of 2024, here’s a general guide to pot rules by region.

Amsterdam – With over 160 coffeeshops within the city limits, the Dutch capital is also the Herb Capital of Europe and hosts the Cannabis Cup every year. Pot is legal for everyone and well tolerated except in areas specifically protected by signs and local ordinances. Rule of thumb: smoke in the coffeeshops or where others smoke. Do not smoke indoors anywhere else or you may get hassled.

SIGNS HELP DEFINE SMOKE-FREE AREAS FOR TOURISTS
30 YEARS OF AMSTERDAM’S “CANNABIS CUP”

Rotterdam – Over three dozen coffeeshops serve the city, and usage is ignored by most people except on public transport, where you can get fined. Large open areas like parks and the riverwalk are fine places to toke during the day, but avoid city parks at night alone. The Zuidplein, Marconiplein and Spangen neighborhoods are high-crime areas that are also best unexplored.

The Hague – While Scheveningen Beach is a great place to smoke up and chill out, not all places in Den Haag embrace the wacky tobacky. Luckily, you can smoke inside most of the 30+ coffeeshops in town, but the police here are a bit stricter than the other Randstad cities, especially during the day near the Binnenhof and the embassy area. While weed here is slightly cheaper than A’dam, quality varies.

UTRECHT’S ‘CULTURE BOAT’ COFFEESHOP

Utrecht – With only a handful of options, only the wonderful Culture Boat allows indoor smoking. Other shops in town are small, takeaway establishments with obvious security and an all-business vibe. Some require a picture ID, but most don’t – watch the entrance or ask the door security staff. With 40,000+ students in town, smoking is outside is commonplace, but indoor smoking in public is frowned upon, especially in the mall or the library where arrests have occurred.

MANDATORY ‘WEED PASS’ IN MAASTRICHT
DRUG LAWS VARY ACROSS THE NETHERLANDS

Maastricht – In principle, only legally registered residents can enter coffeeshops and buy weed legally in Maastricht. This was originally to curb ‘weed-tourists’ from nearby Germany and Belgium and has been somewhat successful. But now that Germany has officially legalized herb, what is the point? Advice: Buy your weed elsewhere and bring it to smoke privately in Maastricht. If you must get your Ganja in town, immigrants sell it by the river bridges around sunset – but bring a couple friends for safety.

Den Bosch – In ‘S-Hertogenbosch you must have a Dutch ID of some sort to enter one of the six dispensaries in town, none of which are open late. You can only smoke inside at the two Grass Company shops, which are also alcohol-free restaurants. Public smoking is well-tolerated except near schools and children. UPDATE: As of May 2024 only an age ID is required – foreigners welcome.

DUTCH THC AVERAGES 7-19%
THERE ARE 500+ COFFEESHOPS IN HOLLAND

Tilburg & Breda – These border towns have completely legalized weed locally from suppliers to smokers as a quality control experiment. This means herb is easy to get for everybody and generally high quality. There are a half dozen shops in Breda but nearly four times as many in Tilburg. Beware: Tilburg street dealers on the boardwalk talk a good game but their pot’s often terrible and overpriced – stick with the shops!

Arnhem – Of the twelve coffeeshops in the city, only two are  “take ‘n toke” without seating,  the rest are traditional coffeeshops. The vibe here is great, but ‘THC’ and ‘The Speak Easy’ don’t accept tourist IDs, which are required as proof of age 18+. Toast your joint with an herbal tea or a zesty smoothie – but remember alcohol is illegal ANYWHERE herb is sold, throughout the Netherlands.

Eindhoven – Only half of the dozen weed shops allow inside smoking, so check this website to find the one that’s right for you. Luckily, you’ll find tourists are welcome in all the coffeeshops here, even if they’re not up to the standard of large A’dam facilities.

First Time User: What to Do If You Have a Bad Trip

Most people experience a pleasant ‘high’ when smoking Ganja, but a few people react differently. If you’ve never used pot before, try a pure joint first and save edibles for another time. Do not smoke a ‘mixed’ joint with tobacco – it’s a different trip and not a good starter.

Once you’ve purchased your pre-rolled, begin with just a few, small puffs and inhale smoke into your mouth like you’re holding your breath. Then, take a big, sudden breath to pull the smoke into your lungs with a mix of clean air. You will cough and people will laugh but it’s all part of the fun.

If you aren’t feeling well, try to stay with other people. Sit down and don’t go anywhere. Remain calm and understand that the feeling will pass soon – 100% guaranteed. No one has ever overdosed on marijuana – look it up!

To ease your discomfort, eat some candy, consume sugary drinks, and seek anything with vitamin C.  A glass of orange juice with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream works wonders. Fresh air can also help if you’re in a quiet place. Cannabis is an enhancing drug, so anything you feel may be exaggerated. Keep this in mind and don’t make any major decisions in your altered state. The effects should lessen in an hour and completely dissipate in under two hours unless edibles are involved.

Marijuana Videos

A good animated introduction for first-time herb users

A video about the Amsterdam coffeehouse experience