Europe, The Netherlands, Life, Editor's Choice

Amsterdam: The European Weed Capital?

Amsterdam is the weed capital of Europe, maybe even the world. That’s what people all around the world say at least. Cannabis aficionados love Amsterdam for its vast buffet of drugs, prostitution and, well, fun. But guess what, cannabis and other substances aren’t really legal in Amsterdam. The capital of the Netherlands struggles, like every other nation, with the circulation of hard drugs. They have, however, found a unique way of dealing with it. Namely tolerating cannabis and helping drug addicts deal with their addiction.

We all have heard of Amsterdam, and whenever we have, we hear about people smoking cannabis. The fact that cannabis-based products are available for consumption in Coffee Shops in the Netherlands doesn’t mean they are more legal than elsewhere in the world. To this day, the law in the Netherlands states that drugs are illegal, all of them. Weed and products based on cannabis are tolerated though as long as people do not possess/sell more than five grams or cultivate more than five plants for personal use.

This is the only reason Coffee Shops exist in Amsterdam and around the country, they do business in a tolerated gray area. As cultivating higher quantities of cannabis plants or buying them is illegal, some of them get fines regularly. Bottom line: no, drugs aren’t entirely legal in Amsterdam or the Netherlands as a whole. Weed is though, and that’s a good thing.

What About Medical Substances and Drugs Apart from Cannabis?

It may sound weird, but legalization of drugs can be a solution for substance abuse. The common misconception is that the availability of drugs would enhance the use of them, the opposite is the case. In fact, Cannabis consumption in the Netherlands is consistently lower than in the United States. It appears as if the normalization of cannabis (which compared to other legal substances like alcohol isn’t even that damaging to the body) has made it a bit boring. Almost like a forbidden fruit scenario. On top of the weed, the Dutch government tolerates certain medical substances and drugs as well. That means sleeping pills and certain sedatives are legal in certain quantities as well.

Hard drugs, on the other hand, are strictly forbidden and persecuted like everywhere else in the world. The Netherlands’ approach to their war on drugs is to segment the market into tolerated soft drugs like weed and certain narcotics, and forbidden hard drugs with severe impact to the body. However, The Netherlands do have the image of an all-out drugs nation – where does that come from if pretty much everything is just as illegal as elsewhere?

Drugs Fresh off the Boat

Import/Export through Dutch ports are nothing unusual; the nation thrives on its ship-based trade routes. Ultimately that also means it is the prime destination for drugs to enter the European market. This has significant implications for the country, its drug users, and the world-renowned party town of Amsterdam. While cannabis is not the issue, the steady supply of highly potent drugs from other parts of the world into the home country of Europe‘s prime party hot spot does amplify drug use. What’s funny though, is the fact that drug addicts in The Netherlands, on average, maintain healthier addictions due to the access to less polluted products with additional health risks. They are of higher quality and easy to come by, but this, along with the frequent availability of cannabis, is not the only reason for Amsterdam’s drug reputation.

One of the main ideas behind the legalization of weed was that drugs are an elemental part of our society. Trying to rid humanity of these substances is an eternal war without winners. Therefore the legalization of soft drugs and, on the other hand, efforts to help addicts of hard drugs rather than to criminalize them are the pillars of the Dutch drug policy. The Netherlands have been running Safe Injection Sites for decades now, supplying addicts with a safe environment to inject state supplied heroin that is pure. Similar to Canada, his has successfully decreased drug-related crime and can give addicts the opportunity to focus on getting better. However, even this approach can have its downsides.

Is Amsterdam the European Weed and Drug Capital? Maybe!

All of this adds up to what is perceived to be a drug-friendly attitude by other nations. While the effects of cannabis legalization are well documented in the US as well, the availability of Safe Injection Sites and the fact that it is the natural entry point for drugs into Europe, does make the Netherlands, and especially Amsterdam, the Drug capital of Europe. For very different reasons than many outsiders would think.

There have been recent attempts to change the law surrounding weed in the Netherlands. There’s a chance we may even see proper legalization in the future. Which doesn’t change the fact, that cannabis is still Amsterdams main attraction for Drug tourists from around the world.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn’t exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world’s crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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