Cannabis coffee shop: Wikis


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A sign of a cannabis coffee shop in Amsterdam

Coffeeshops are establishments in the Netherlands where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities (in Dutch called gedoogbeleid).


Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products in small quantities is allowed by 'licensed' coffee shops. The majority of these "coffeeshops" (in Dutch written as one word) also serve drinks and food. It is not allowed for a coffeeshop to serve alcohol or other drugs. The idea of coffeeshops was introduced in the 1970s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated.

In the Netherlands, 105 of the 443 municipalities have at least one coffeeshop. Many at the borders sell mostly to foreigners (mostly from Belgium, Germany and France), who can also buy marijuana in their own countries, but prefer the legality and higher product quality of Dutch coffeeshops.

Dutch coffeehouses not serving marijuana are called koffiehuis, while a café is the equivalent of a bar.

Coffee shop law

Coffeeshop license

In the Netherlands, the selling of cannabis is "illegal, but not punishable", so the law is not enforced in establishments following these nationwide rules:

  • no advertising
  • no hard drug sales on the premises
  • no sales to children (under Dutch law that is people under the age of 18)
  • no sales transactions exceeding a quantity threshold (5 grams)
  • no public disturbances

For some offences, a business may be forced to close for three months, for others, completely; all this is detailed in official policies.

Coffeeshops are no longer allowed to sell alcohol. Most coffee shops advertise, and the constraint is more moderating than outright prohibitive. In a gesture of discretion still technically required, many coffee shops keep the cannabis menu below the counter, even when the cannabis itself is in more-or-less plain view. Dutch coffee shops often fly red-yellow-green Ethiopian flags, other symbols of the Rastafari movement, or depiction of palm leaves to indicate that they sell cannabis, as a consequence of the official ban on direct advertising. This aesthetic attracted many public artists who get commissions to create murals in the coffee shops and use the Rastafari and reggae related imagery.

Any shops selling soft drugs to minors, hard drugs or coffee shops selling alcohol without a license, are immediately closed. These shops provide non-contaminated cannabis products (and hence are as safe as store-bought tobacco, as far as unexpected chemicals are concerned). Cannabis and any food products containing cannabis are generally clearly identified to prevent accidental consumption.

As of 2009 the sale of THC cookies and brownies known as space cakes in coffee shops is prohibited, although it is not difficult to find shops that sell them.

A coffee shop in Maastricht

Backdoor policy

There is an on-going contradiction, as a coffeeshop is allowed to sell cannabis, but not to buy it: "The front door is open, but the backdoor is illegal." There are proposals for remedying this situation (as of January, 2006), e.g. by controlled growing of cannabis to replace imports. One proponent of this is Gerd Leers, mayor of Maastricht, who, when in national parliament, was in favour of further criminalisation of marijuana, in keeping with the policies of his party, CDA, which is the strongest opponent of the gedoogbeleid. However, when confronted with the practical difficulties when he became mayor (and consequently head of police) he changed his mind and even became the best known advocate against the illegality at the back door, which takes up a disproportionate amount of time and money for the police, in tracking down (mostly indoor) plantations.


In 2008, the 'Vereniging van nederlandse gemeenten' (VNG, the organisition of Dutch municipalities) organised a 'wiettop' (a wordplay on the flowery tops that cannabis is made of), attended by 33 Dutch mayors from both big and small municipalities and various political parties. Reasons for the top were drugs tourism in border regions (the mayors of Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom had just announced an intention to close all coffeeshops), the strong link with illegality (including laundering of money through coffee shops) and the discrepancies between the policies of the various municipalities. At this wiettop, all mayors agreed that regulation of the 'backdoor' was desirable. Rob van Gijzel, mayor of Eindhoven announced he intended to start a 'monitored pilot' of issuing licenses for the production of cannabis. But near the borders, the front door should also be (better) regulated, forbidding sales to foreigners. This would also greatly decrease the demand at the backdoor. Intentions were to discuss the results of the wiettop with the national government before the end of 2008.


In a survey among mayors by NRC Handelsblad at the time of the wiettop (with a 60% response) 80% of the mayors were in favour of 'regulating the backdoor' (ie making it legal). However, only 18% were in favour of making the market for soft drugs completely free. 22% were in favour of reducing the number of coffeeshops and 10% want to close them all. Strikingly, this has little to do with the view of their political party, from which NRC Handelsblad concludes it's based on practical considerations, rather than ideological.


In 2008, the Dutch government decided that coffeeshops would no longer be allowed within a radius of 250 m of schools. In Amsterdam, this means the closing of 43 more coffeeshops (in preceding years the number had already been reduced from 350 to 228). Mayor Job Cohen had preferred no change but complied reluctantly. He pointed out that coffeeshops are already not allowed to sell to customers aged under 18, so the policy would not have much effect.

Drug tourism

Each municipality has a coffee shop policy. For some this is a "zero policy", i.e., they do not allow any. Most of such municipalities are either controlled by strict Protestant parties, or are bordering Belgium and Germany and simply do not wish to receive "drug tourism" from those countries. A March 19, 2005 article in the Observer noted that the number of Dutch cannabis coffee shops had dropped from 1,500 to 750 over the previous five years, largely due to pressure from the conservative coalition government. The "no-growth" policies of many Dutch cities affect new licensing. This policy slowly reduces the number of coffeeshops, since no one can open a new one after a closure. Most municipalities have designated a certain zone around e.g. schools and high schools where coffee shops are not allowed, which may be from a hundred metres to several kilometres.

The municipality of Terneuzen has put up road signs showing the way to the coffeeshops. The same town has recently decided to restrict local by-laws for cannabis from May 2009.[1]

An example of a bong in a Dutch Coffee Shop.

Smoking on the premises

Smoking joints has been common in cannabis coffee shops. However, since 1 July 2008 there is a tobacco smoking ban in the Netherlands which allows smoking joints containing tobacco in a separate smoking room only. Bongs and pure cannabis joints can still be smoked inside the premises and is encouraged.[2]However, most coffee shops still sell mixed joints/ spliffs, i.e. those with tobacco mixed with marijuana, and have made customers smoke in upstairs or downstairs rooms. In some shops, however, the separation room rule is only as 'separate' as the smoking/non-smoking 'separation' sections in many restaurants and bars around the world.

Outside the Netherlands


Despite Canadian laws forbidding its non-medical use, some cities and local law enforcement have, at times, tolerated coffee shops which allow customers to smoke cannabis. In Vancouver, for example, the New Amsterdam and Blunt Brothers were cafes on West Hastings Street with such pro-cannabis policies. The New Amsterdam Cafe is still open for business. In Vancouver, these shops can mostly be found on the block of 300 West Hastings Street. In Toronto, there are a growing number of bring-your-own-cannabis coffee shops, with The Hotbox Cafe and The Kindred Cafe being the most well known. Each Toronto cafe has its own set of rules.


In Denmark the coffeeshops of Freetown Christiania were abolished in 2005 or 2006, as part of the wider issues involved with Free Christiania.

United States

NORML has opened a cannabis-themed coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. It is accesible to NORML members who are authorized under The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Cannabis is not available for sale, but distributed freely for consumption on premises.[3]

See also


External links

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