A guide to Dutch coffeeshops
Not to be confused with establishments of the bean, barista and latté art variety, coffeeshops are cannabis cafés – although some also sell coffee! They’re a part of the Netherlands’ relaxed attitude towards what’s classified to be a ‘soft drug’. However, all coffeeshops are run according to strict regulations and there are important things to keep in mind when visiting one.
- Get to know the Netherlands’ soft drugs policy
- Learn the dos and don’ts of visiting coffeeshops
- Check local regulations to ensure your safety
A progressive approach to cannabis
The Netherlands’ progressive approach to cannabis use is widely known. Small amounts for personal use are available to purchase and smoke on-site in cannabis cafés known as ‘coffeeshops’. Dutch drug policies are designed with the intention of keeping drug use manageable, transparent and away from criminal activity. Dutch lawmakers are known for taking a pragmatic approach, and the coffeeshop policy is seen by many as a way to free up resources to focus on hard drugs and more serious crimes.
Drugs in the Netherlands: what’s allowed
Although drugs including cannabis are illegal under the Dutch Opium Act, a tolerance policy (‘gedoogbeleid’ in Dutch) means that the law is not enforced providing that certain regulations are followed. For example, customers must be 18 years or over, there is a limit of five grams per person per day, coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol, they must have a valid permit, and the shop can have a maximum of 500 grams in stock at a time.
Each region can set restrictions on the way that coffeeshops are run in their area. For example, Amsterdam’s policy has seen the number of coffeeshops decrease in recent years. Note that coffeeshops only sell cannabis products while ‘smart shops’ legally sell psychoactive truffles (not magic mushrooms which are prohibited).
If you’re wondering why they are called coffeeshops, the name derives from the semi-secret drug trade in cafés in the early 1970s. Mellow Yellow coffeeshop in Amsterdam (which closed in 2017) was the first to obtain a license from the City of Amsterdam in 1972.
The rules for visitors and tourists
When visiting a coffeeshop, keep in mind that certain rules apply. The shop can sell you a maximum of five grams per day, alcohol is not to be sold on the premises and ID is required to prove your age. Most coffeeshops sell non-alcoholic drinks. Smoking tobacco has not been allowed inside Dutch cafés, restaurants and hotels since 2008, so tobacco-marijuana mixes may not be smoked inside coffeeshops. In addition to these rules, always put your personal safety first – only purchase from reputable coffeeshops (not street dealers) and don’t drive a vehicle under the influence of drugs.
Since 2013, additional rules have been established to restrict coffeeshop use to residents of the Netherlands, although local councils have the final say in whether this measure is truly enforced. Typically it is not, but cities such as Maastricht, Breda and Venlo – all near the Dutch border – do apply additional checks or rules.