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Since its very beginnings, Amsterdam has always been a city with a tolerant mentality. It has been and still is an example of open, liberal thought and has therefore become a city of pilgrimage for travellers in search of pleasures that are illegal in other parts of the world. This refers to the consumption of drugs, about which clarification is needed of some aspects that generally prompt confusion and create an inaccurate image of the city.
Drug consumption is not legal in Amsterdam. Although this may seem surprising, or may not fit in with what you have been told, it is in fact true. In the city and throughout Holland, the consumption of what are known as soft drugs is tolerated in areas established for such a purpose. There lies the fine print: the consumption of certain drugs such as hash and marihuana are TOLERATED, provided that it is controlled and in small amounts.
The famous coffee shops are not what their name suggests they are, but rather establishments authorised for the sale of soft drugs and their consumption on the same site.
There are coffee shops all over the city: these range from historical chains such as Bulldog, which opened in 1975 and now has establishments on the main streets, to small sites with psychedelic or other more modern and minimalist decoration.
To identify them, all you need to do is take a look at the door. They are all marked with a special label that features the license.
These establishments, moreover, must comply strictly with a series of requisites: they cannot sell hard drugs, to under-18s, more than 5 grams per person, or alcohol, and they may not possess over 500 grams of grass in stock on site.
They are fun and the striking decoration on the doors means that visitors have a clear idea of where they are entering. As advertising for the sale of drugs is banned, the coffee shops have come up with posters that they hang on their doors and windows. Creativity is very often conspicuous in its absence, as they make do with old-fashioned designs of Rastafarians smoking, marihuana leaves or homages to reggae culture.
It is interesting to take a walk though the red light district, or through Harlemmerdijk, to the north of Jordaan, where there are many, varied coffee shops.
Through the windows, very varied groups of people can be made out in clouds of smoke. The tourists, who visit the coffee shop as just another item on their schedule, always stand out. There are establishments for all tastes; some play electronic or classic rock music, some have board games and others serve delicious fruit juices or chocolate shakes. You will be surprised to see the menus, which feature dozens of types of hash and marihuana, rolled cigarettes or grass in bags, all of which is a genuine experience.
You might see establishments of another kind, with similar decoration to that of the coffee shops and windows with pipe displays and “magic mushrooms” catalogues. These are the smart shops, which legally sell hallucinogenic plants and psychotropic fungi under the same conditions applied to the coffee shops.
For better or for worse, the coffee shops and the smart shops are the focus of attention of many tourists who arrive in Amsterdam in search of new experiences. Remember, however, that if consuming, one must be careful and responsible, and must do so always in accordance with the established laws, which means inside establishments and in small amounts.
If you prefer conventional coffee and a nice slice of cake to a hash cigarette, well, it is all a question of taste. There are no rules about coffee, so you may take as much sugar as you like.
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