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Lowdown on Marijuana in Holland

LdyLunatic

i wanna be cool too!
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Tennessee -- "Yeah, it's legal, but it ain't a hundred percent legal. I mean, you can't walk into a restaurant, roll a joint and start puffin' away. You're only supposed to smoke in your home or certain designated places ... It breaks down like this: it's legal to buy it, it's legal to own it, and, if you're the proprietor of a hash bar, it's legal to sell it. It's legal to carry it, which doesn't really matter 'cause - get a load of this - if the cops stop you, it's illegal for them to search you."

This quote is almost scripture one for anyone who is even remotely cinematically literate. Just in case, it's a snippet from "Pulp Fiction": John Travolta's Vincent explains to Samuel L. Jackson's Jules to what extent marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, encapsulating what most people know about Dutch drug policy.
The second most-asked question that people ask me, when they find out that I've just returned from Holland, is "Did you smoke any weed while you were there?" Other versions: "Are those coffee shops for real?" and sometimes, with a knowing smile, "Exactly how much dope did you smoke?"

Technically, marijuana and hash (a cannabis derivative) is illegal in Holland. The Dutch, to appease major trading partners that criminalize certain drugs - most notably the U.S., France, and Germany - have laws on the books that criminalize those drugs as well. However, Dutch authorities apply "non-enforcement" concerning the sale of marijuana by koffieshops to customers for personal use.

Why? The Dutch government tends to take a pragmatic approach to social issues, classifying illegal drug use as more of a public health issue, and making a distinction between hard drugs - such as heroin and cocaine - and soft drugs. To sum up their rationale, "These problems are never going away completely. We should use fewer resources to limit them to a manageable level." (For those who might argue that vices such as drug use and prostitution are morally wrong, they examine our own society, particularly in this region - for a place in which many people might profess to be religious or go to church regularly, there are still prostitutes and drugs. Obviously, the onus of faith and/or criminal prosecution doesn't deter people.)

So, to add to what Quentin Tarantino has taught us, here are the rules:

Coffeeshops can sell up to 5 grams of marijuana or hash to an individual. (Who needs more than that all at once, anyway?) The coffee shops must pay taxes on their sales, and they are not allowed to advertise. You must be at least 18 to buy marijuana.

Technically, the wholesale suppliers that service coffee shops are still breaking the law, only one example of how gray drug laws have become in the face of the pressure from those "drug-free" trading partners. Trafficking hard drugs is still illegal, resulting in heavy fines and time in jail.

Now, you might think that, because weed is widely available in Holland, all of the Dutch do it on a regular basis and are high all the time. Not so. As with most things, when a "vice" isn't a big deal - namely, if doing it doesn't make you any cooler because you're breaking the law - you're more likely to be blasé about it. Most Dutch university students, at least, are not habitual smokers, and I found it difficult to find a Dutch person who was as high as a kite. They leave it to American or British students and tourists, who don't know what they're doing, to stagger out of cookie-cutter coffee shops.

There are some aspects of Dutch drug culture that are more whimsical than they are shocking. For example, if a Dutch person asks you whether or not you "blow," they're not asking if you do cocaine, and they're not trying to be fresh. They're asking whether or not you'd indulge in a Euro-style spliff - Europeans, frugal as they are, generally throw in some tobacco with their weed, to make it "smoke better," or smoother.

For a lightweight or a beginner, that bit of tobacco is for the best. As in most things, the Dutch don't mess around when it comes to the potency of their drugs. Their diligence is exemplified with the Cannabis Cup: held every November, and sponsored by the magazine High Times, this internationally known, juried competition sniffs out the best strains of marijuana on the planet.

Coffee shops are an adventure in themselves, even if you don't smoke up. They range from franchises (or at least, several shops that look the same, with neon palm trees in the windows and Bob Marley playing over the speakers) to extremely cozy and domestic (with cats on the windowsill and playing bossa nova over their speakers). Yes, there is a menu of choices - the longest I saw was at least three pages front and back - and anyone working behind the counter will be glad to make recommendations.

In addition to having just plain weed or hash for sale, you can buy a pre-rolled joint - handy if you are not very good at rolling one yourself -and they come in a convenient carrying case.

I personally couldn't believe that, besides space cakes (brownies baked with hash) there are more palatable methods for consuming cannabis: hash milkshakes, Earl Grey infused with weed, hash bon-bons …

So, exactly how much dope did I smoke while I was in Holland?

I would still consider myself a novice in such things. But, unlike most things about my time abroad, I should say, "What happens in Holland stays in Holland." I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Source: East Tennessean, The (TN Edu)
Author: Jewel Aldea
Published: September 25, 2006
Copyright: 2006 The East Tennessean
 

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