My husband and I are both 45 and trained for the past year to participate in the 42.2 kilometer ING Bank Amsterdam marathon that took place on October 21, 2007. (We both finished it under the six-hour time limit.) It was our second trip to the famed cannabis soaked seaport, and we were delighted by the leisurely canal ride among the waterways ringing the city that define its architectural periods. Scott was most excited about the hundreds of marijuana and hashish dispensing “coffeeshops”, and it was fun to browse “smartshops” selling psilocybin mushrooms and peyote buttons. Admittedly, it was also kind of neat to see the Red Light District with its neon-lit prostitutes beckoning!
Scott has Crohn’s Disease and smokes cannabis to ease the severe discomfort of the intestine-destroying illness. I don’t consume the herb but enjoy the philosophical aspects of cannabis culture, and Amsterdam’s is fascinating. Radical activists in the early 1970s sold cannabis in defiance of the law. Then, in the late 1970s, the pragmatic Dutch politicians instituted the current system of regulated coffeeshops to dispense cannabis products. In a peculiar hypocrisy, coffeeshops are not allowed to display the cannabis leaf on any exterior signs, names or advertising. The exceptions are the Cannabis College, which is permitted the use of the leaf and the word “cannabis” in its logo because, while having cannabis gardens for the visitor to view, it does not actually sell cannabis. That is also true for the many cannabis seed shops that do not sell cannabis but have upwards of hundreds of famous and potent varieties of seeds. These shops can say cannabis and use the leaf on their advertising, signage and catalogs while cannabis herb dispensaries must be called coffeeshops.
Inside coffeeshops, product is available in the form of weed bags, joints, hash, brownies and Space cakes. The quality is uniformly excellent and in many case simply outstanding. You will not find cannabis of this quality, variety and choice anywhere else in the world – not close by any means. This is cannabis paradise. You can purchase up to 5 grams of hashish or marijuana per day from any shop. The prices for hashish range from US$7.50 a gram for, say, Ketama or Afghan black to US$15 for Nepali black, and up to US$20 a gram for Dutch Extreme Polm. Marijuana prices start at US$5 a gram for Jamaican or Thai, rise to US$9 a gram for White Widow, US$13.50 a gram for Silver Haze or Jack Herer, to US$20 for Fantasia. The prices go up to US$36 a gram for Isolator Hash, which is claimed to be 100% THC.
Visitors to any coffee shop will find a small, cozy environment where they can purchase their desired product, receive a small quantity of rolling papers and filters as needed, and be given a place to sit and smoke – when available, as sometimes all seating is taken. I was able to visit and photograph over 100 coffeeshops during our 30 days in Amsterdam, and each one tries to work in a theme of some sort. There are India-themed coffeeshops – Baba, for one – that offer their patrons the sweet smell of incense burning and the warm flow of meditation music. Some shops have sports themes with TV screens and pool tables, and there are Internet pot café’s where you can have a complimentary 30-minute log-on to check your email or do a little surfing online. Other coffeeshops merely offer a juice bar and a comfy place to spend some time relaxing with friends while enjoying a mellow smoke. As for beverages, they have a variety of cold drinks that include bottled water, juice (sometimes fresh squeezed), hot coffee, and herbal teas. There are a few bars that offer you a place to bring your own weed to smoke, but they are not coffeeshops per se and sell booze, not weed. These are nice spots if you’re looking to have a few drinks and a smoke with friends while dancing to great music. Note about photographs: Most coffee shops were dimly lit, making inside photography difficult. In addition, some shops did not want photographs taken inside as they felt it might make their patrons feel uncomfortable. In one case even the staff shied away from the camera.
In addition to the coffeeshops, Amsterdam boasts several different “Smart Shops” where you can find a variety of products and accessories including bongs, pipes, grinders, papers, filters, and cannabis growing starter kits. Some sell cannabis seeds, and others sell fresh psychedelic magic mushrooms. While dried mushrooms are illegal to sell (but not illegal to possess), fresh mushrooms are potent and legal to sell. Mushrooms are graded from 1 as a beginner level – they produce a high similar to alcohol, a giggly type of high with a short duration – to 5 for the seasoned “shroomer” trips. Mushroom prices range from about US$18 to US$32 for about six to eight mushrooms in a package. You can take these back to your hotel to dry them out and consume later, or consume them immediately.
Seeds are sold everywhere from US$1.50 per seed (pack of 10 at a small corner convenience type store, a total price of $15) and go up to $225 for a 10 pack of premium genetics, such as Jack Herer, at the famed Sensi Seed Bank. A flower market on the Singel sells starter kits complete with the tray, ground soil, and seeds for around US$6. Established seed banks like Sensi Seed Bank, The Greenhouse Seeds, and High Quality Seeds have eager purchasers from America who have read of these name places in High Times and through that magazine’s Cannabis Cup promotions, so these famous names charge a premium for their reputation and their recognized lines of cannabis seeds. Some no-name gardening kiosks and shops around Amsterdam sell famous strains at considerable discounts, but because you can’t tell what strain a seed is by looking at it, you should get brand-name strains directly from the original source. The Sensi Seed Store and mail order seed bank located at Oudezijds Achterburgwal 150 is perhaps the world’s largest producer and seller of finer cannabis seeds. The very pleasant and friendly store has grinders, clothes, books, small hemp bales, and a small demonstration garden you can view though a window in the adjoining Hash Museum.
Another spot for cannabis and hemp information is the Cannabis College at Oudezijds Achterburgwal 124 (www.cannabiscollege.com). Unfortunately, we were somewhat disappointed; six years ago when we visited the college we found a wonderful display area dedicated to the drug war history and various people who had been incarcerated for merely partaking in the pleasures of the herb, but on this trip we found the information to be focused mostly on cannabis and hemp product use.
We took over 150 great photos of the coffeeshop storefronts and Amsterdam cannabis scene, and whittled them down to 72 for this article. We also have a few favorite locations to recommend to Amsterdam tourists!
Located on the Reguliers Dwarsstraat. The owner is very laid back and never in a hurry. He has traveled to Toronto, Canada and loves taking time to chat. The shop is a small and friendly environment, well frequented, and with good product. There is a small hot and cold beverage bar, about six tables with chairs, and a row of seats along the bar and back wall. There are also two large wooden seats that are part of the doorway frame, making it possible for a nice afternoon’s outdoor smoke as you watch the people go by.
This was the first coffeeshop started in Amsterdam by Henk de Vries in 1975. Since then, Bull Dog’s Amsterdam chain has expanded to include the Bull Dog Amsterdam, the Bull Dog Leidseplein, and the Bull Dog Hotel, a relaxed hostel for travelers who like the party atmosphere and open attitudes of its fellow patrons. Our favorite is the Bull Dog Leidseplein, located – as the name suggests – on the Leidseplein with its many street entertainers and variety of fun-loving people. The Bull Dog Leidseplein is a busy spot that opens early and closes late. A must see in Amsterdam! When you enter the area you first pass by the outdoor seating and sunroom, then it’s down the steps to be greeted by the doorman. Push a little button and the menu lights up, displaying a list of all the Bull Dogs wares. From there you can either take a seat at the juice bar for the best freshly squeezed orange juice in Amsterdam, or move into the old police jail cell, take a seat, smoke to your hearts content, and enjoy the view of a pot plant proudly displayed in a glassed-in corner. The staff is open, friendly and helpful. In the location’s second side, accessible from outdoors, there is a large alcohol bar with bright lights, loud music and lots of dancing for a full night’s entertainment! Note for North Americans: The owner has a place in Vernon, BC and has opened in the ski resort Silver Star (www.silverstarmountain.com). The Bull Dog Silver Star is located in the heart of Silver Star Village, next to the ticket office and close to lifts, restaurants and shopping.
ROOKIES COFFEE SHOP
Located on Korteleidse Dwarsstraat, just down the street from the Leidseplein. It’s a larger coffee shop with a long beverage bar that offers real ‘Munt Thee’ – mint leaves with steaming hot water poured over top, which you flavor with honey. They also offer regular tea and coffee along with cold beverages. You purchase your product at the bar before sitting outside and enjoying the warmth of a sunny afternoon or staying inside at the many tables available to perhaps shoot a game of pool. The girls at the bar are very friendly and welcome travelers from afar. There is a sign in the window stating that no outside food or drink is allowed. Weed started at 5,00 Euro (US$7.50) a gram for Thai.
STONES CORNER & STONES CAFÉ
Both are located on the Warmoesstraat, in the Red Light District. Stones Corner is a coffee shop right on the corner, with comfortable surroundings that seat a maximum of 20 people. There is a coffee table with a wrap-around couch and a small table with floor-style seating along one wall. There are also four stools at the bar. The bartenders are quite knowledgeable about their products and always give a fair measure. The Moroccan and the Warm Ore are to be recommended. As in most coffeeshops, Stones offers its patrons baked goodies with either a hot or cold drink. There is a minimum consumption requirement in order to spend some time in the shop, due to its size restrictions, but you never seem to be hassled about leaving! Just down the same street you’ll find Stones Café, an alcohol bar with lots of flashing lights and great dance music. Both places offer a different atmosphere, and you won’t want to miss either one!
Located just a short distance from the Singel, you’ll find a small shop with a beautiful stained glass sidebar by the door and an interesting mural painted on the ceiling. The Rokery wasn’t one of our normal haunts, but it does warrant mention as being a coffeeshop that’s somewhat different from the rest. Seating, complete with comfy cushions and small tables, is provided on both sides of the room, and there is a juice bar at the end of the room. What makes this shop unique is where you buy your product: a little passageway beside the bar takes you down a dark narrow stairway that looks like something out of an old scary movie, even down to candles for lighting along the way! A short distance down you’ll come to a small room with an attendant waiting to sell his wares. Once your purchase is complete, back up the stairs you go for relaxation and enjoyment in the coffeeshop! (www.rokerij.net)
CANNABISS SHOP WILLIE WORTEL’S
This one final spot must be mentioned in our list of favorites. It’s located a short train ride away in Haarlem, just down the street from the train station. You won’t find a friendlier, more pleasant place in Holland, and it’s run by one of the Netherlands’s most activist-oriented coffeeshop owners, Nol Van Schaik. Willie’s reminds you somewhat of a 1950s diner where the locals congregate. A vending machine dispenses packages consisting of a lighter, filters, and rolling papers for 2,25 Euro (US$3.50). Once you have your starter kit, buy your product at the window, then go in and take a comfortable seat in friendly surroundings. The washrooms are clean and easily accessible, and there’s a juice bar at the back for a cool beverage or a wonderful herbal tea with biscuit. You can even check your email for free, while enjoying a smoke. Willie’s was definitely one of the best coffeeshops in Amsterdam, and we’ll enjoy coming back again in the future!