,

Birth Of The Coffeeshops

[…] I’ve always been fascinated by the origins of the cannabis tolerance movement in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. How did this happen? How did this little country develop the most intelligent approach to marijuana smoking in the entire world?

At the same time that Holland launched its tolerance campaign, we passed local legislation in Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Ypsilanti that limited marijuana crime punishment to a $5 fine, but our movement never went any further than that until medical marijuana was legalized in 2008.

Amsterdam and the Netherlands went on to establish a system that allowed hundreds of coffeeshops to serve marijuana and hashish smokers for what’s turned out to be almost 50 years.

Here’s how the Anne Bonney, writer of Cannabis in Holland—an Introduction: A Book of Cannabis Truths, says it happened.

HASH HITS EUROPE

     Along with the political and social unrest of the 1960’s came a huge explosion in the use of Cannabis and psychedelics. Another part of the cultural upheaval was travel.

Many young Europeans left the comforts of home or university to travel to the exotic East. In those days the world political situation was such that one could drive (or in some cases, hitchhike) from Europe to Tangiers, Delhi or Kabul and many did.

On their travels the young adventurers adopted many foreign practices—from meditation to vegetarianism and hashish smoking. Soon large quantities of hashish began to find their way back to Western Europe, with Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Copenhagen and other cities becoming consumption and distribution centers.

THE COFFEESHOPS ARE BORN

     By the early 1970’s there was widespread use of Cannabis, speed, heroin, LSD and other recreational drugs presenting various degrees of health risks to Dutch citizens….

The then Minister of Health and Interior, Irene Vorink….concluded that Cannabis was considerably less harmful than the other drugs….Vorink saw that the most common way for Cannabis users to be introduced to drugs “harder” than Cannabis was by the drug sellers themselves.

She took the step of recommending that the authorities stop prosecuting people for the consumption and sales of personal amounts of Cannabis. She then set up a system where access was provided to cannabis in a controlled setting. To do this, she took advantage of existing youth centers as places to permit the sales of small amounts of hashish and marijuana….

The basic concept of the coffeeshop as a place to buy and smoke Cannabis, hang out, have a (non-alcoholic) drink, chat or play a game, has been around since 1971.

That was when the first youth hostel started ignoring smoking and small-scale dealing. It was the government-tolerated selling and smoking in youth centers that provided the model for the coffeeshops of today.

Mila Jansen started a teahouse where people hung out, drank tea and smoked a nice spliff. The first joints were handed out for free as an extra with your cup of tea. Also, people from other countries brought back hashish and other products, so they could trade products with each other.

In 1973, Wernard and three friends opened a small “Tea House” called Mellow Yellow where a single “house-dealer” sold pre-bagged hash and grass from behind the bar rather than the old style where the house simply allowed deals and smoking to go on. Mellow Yellow also sold tea and coffee and had a table football game.

In 1974 Henk de Vries opened the Bulldog Coffeeshop, soon to become world famous, and openly sold hash [as] the first business to use the name “coffeeshop.”
[Note: The coffeeshops proliferated for 20 years until there were 750 or so in the city of Amsterdam alone by 1994, when the federal government began its campaign to regulate and control the traffic in Cannabis, demanding that coffeeshops apply for a license and adhere to the government’s coffeeshop rules:]

THE COFFEESHOP RULES (since 1996)

1. No advertising, including no Cannabis leaf motif in the window or on the sign.
2. No hard drugs, no buying, no selling, no possession, by owner, staff or clients.
3. No public nuisance.
4. No sale of more than five grams to any client on any day.
5. No minors. This means persons under 18.

If shop owners play by these five rules, the government will “turn a blind eye” to the fact that the business sells Cannabis. If any of the five rules are broken, then the shop owner becomes liable for a violation of the Cannabis laws [and subject to loss of license, criminal charges, and/or other punitive measures].

So those are the actual facts of the cannabis issue in Amsterdam and how it sank its roots into the general culture to insure that smokers would be able to get their sacrament. Now let’s have some coffeeshops in Michigan!

Here’s one last little factoid from the Cannabis and Coffeeshops pamphlet: Americans are generally fascinated by the way the Dutch, the British and Europeans in general mix tobacco with their weed before lighting up. I always thought this was because they started out on hashish and smoked it in a mixture with tobacco to keep the flame going. Then weed became available in the 1970s and 80s in large quantities and soon Europeans were smoking 2 grams of marijuana to each gram of hash while using the same mixture concept.

But, as the Grow Grrrlzzz point out, “At first, tobacco was a rare and special imported product, available only to the rich. The seeds were hard to find, of doubtful quality and nobody knew where or how to grow it in Europe. Eventually tobacco became available to enough people that the entire nation [of Holland] took up the craze.

“So, the frugal Dutch began stretching their expensive imported tobacco with the leaves and flowers of their hennep plants by the mid-1500s.” Wow. Free The Weed!

(excerpt from  John Sinclair‘s column FREE THE WEED 70. All Rights Reserved.)

Coffeeshops in the Netherlands

New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam was even more festive than usual this season as thousands of European visitors flocked to the city to enjoy what they believed would be the last night they’d be welcome in the coffee shops of the Netherlands.

For several months, the reigning Dutch government had been trumpeting the imminent demise of the old coffee shop regime as of Jan. 1, 2012, and the mainstream media were only too eager to amplify the message.

Under the mandated new rules, all existing Dutch coffee shops would be converted to members-only clubs strictly limited to the patronage of Dutch citizens and registered expatriates, and the dreaded “drug tourists” from all over the world would be barred from entry.

But after the border city of Maastricht and other municipalities in Holland demanded that the government delay its plans for at least a year, Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten announced in November that the system won’t be introduced nationwide until 2013.

At the same time, Opstelten insisted that cannabis cafés in three towns in the south of the country — Noord-Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland — will have to turn themselves into members-only clubs by May 1 of this year as a sort of pilot program for the new policy.

Coffee shop owners in Maastrict have already banned all but Dutch, German and Belgian nationals from buying cannabis products in an effort to appease the government, and the border towns of Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal have gotten rid of their coffee shops altogether.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands, 16 coffee shops In Rotterdam have been shut down because they were located within 250 meters of schools. If this proscription were applied across the country, another 94 coffee shops would have to close. To make things even worse, the government wants to extend the distance-from-school rule from 250 to 350 meters, which will shut down even more coffee shops.

This whole mess started in 2006 when the city of Maastricht decided to ban tourists from the local coffee shops and a coffee shop owner was forced to close after two non-Dutch nationals were found on his premises.

In upholding the legality of the city’s action, The Netherlands’ highest court, the Council of State, appealed to the high European court — sort of the EU equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court — to issue a ruling that the Maastricht ban does not conflict with EU laws.

Last July, EU Advocate General Yves Bot said the Netherlands was within its rights to ban tourists from coffee shops. Bot said he considers the move necessary to “protect public order” and “reduce the nuisance caused by drug tourism.” In addition, Bot said, the ban would contribute to European efforts to combat the illegal drug trade.

In Amsterdam, the City Council opposes the introduction of the membership scheme. “We are concerned about the problems that will arise from large-scale street dealing,” one councilman said, adding that “there are also health concerns, because with street dealing we cannot monitor the quality of the soft drugs or the age of the buyers.”

The city had solved these problems in the early 1970s when it decriminalized recreational drug use and allowed the establishment of coffee shops as places where cannabis products could be sold and consumed in-house.

But the Dutch policy of tolerance has never been at all popular with most other European governments nor the draconian American authorities, and the social truce that has allowed over-the-counter cannabis commerce in Holland to flourish has always been an uneasy one.

The recent demonstration of official opposition to the coffee shop culture has been a long time coming, but now it looms large on the immediate societal horizon. The Christian Democratic party (CDA) that ruled in the 1990s and early 2000s and remains part of the current government has never fully accepted the “gray area” philosophy, and now that its coalition partners comprise the Liberals and the anti-Islam party led by Geert Wilders, the CDA is making its move with unprecedented confidence.

The intensified crackdown on the coffee shop culture seems to have been enabled by the findings of a government commission in 2009 that concluded hashish and marijuana are far more powerful now than when the “gray area” policy was introduced in the 1970s. (This increase in potency, of course, is the result of the rapid development of the Dutch growing community and its wizardry in generating new and ever more effective strains of marijuana.)

At the same time, according to the authorities, the bigger the coffee shop industry becomes, the more likely it is to come into the grasp of “organized crime.” To that end, the commission recommended cafés become smaller and should sell only to locals.

The illegal growing industry is thought to be worth some $2.6 billion a year, involving some 40,000 people in marijuana cultivation operations on what they call plantations, of which some 5,000 are busted each year. The Dutch government now intends to increase its efforts to drive “organized crime” out of the production and trade of marijuana and to seize the assets of convicted drug criminals.

The crazy thing is that, with marijuana cultivation and distribution remaining illegal, persons engaged in these activities are organized criminals by definition. If they really want to get “organized crime” out of the cannabis business, they would simply legalize marijuana completely and all that crime would just go away since it wouldn’t be “criminal activity” any longer.

The war against marijuana users and the cannabis culture is particularly absurd because there’s no social harm that’s ever been proved to result from viping beyond the possible inducements to race-mixing and guilt-free sexual activity that are proscribed by the orthodox religious order.

Here in Holland, the long-term tolerance of the cannabis culture has both created an atmosphere that attracts weed-smoking pilgrims to make up a significant portion of the local tourist economy and fostered a full-scale cannabis industry that generates billions of euros worth of business within the intimate confines of this tiny nation.

Accordingly, every knowledgeable person I have consulted about the issue continues to scoff at the notion that the state can transform the coffee shop culture by means of the pending legislation.

My friend and mentor Michael Veling, proprietor of the 420 Café and a life-long cannabis activist in Amsterdam, remains convinced that the year-long moratorium now in effect will no doubt end in a further extension of the truce rather than a victory for the suppressive forces.

“There is no way they are going to be able to demonstrate in the courts that ‘drug tourism’ constitutes a ‘public nuisance’ or a ‘threat to public order,’” Veling told me, adding that Justice Minister Opstelten, a Liberal Party member, will have to report back to the CDA representatives — who started this shit thinking they could finally win the battle — that he tried everything but it proved impossible to enforce their mandate and things will have to continue as before.

At any rate, Veling stressed, would-be drug tourists from America and elsewhere will definitely be welcome in the coffee shops of Holland for at least the entire present year. C’mon over, he said, we appreciate your business.

John Sinclair, founder of the White Panthers, is a poet. His latest book is ‘It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader.

February 3rd 2012.

Source: CounterPunch Editorial

John Sinclair talks Amsterdam Coffeeshops

FREE THE WEED 57

A Column by John Sinclair

Highest greetings from Amsterdam at the beginning of the traditional Cannabis Cup week, where for the first time since 1988 there will be no High Times Cannabis Cup in the marijuana capitol of the world and no Thanksgiving Day awards for the best weed grown in Holland.

I first came to Amsterdam for the 11th Cannabis Cup in 1998, where I served as High Priest and performed at the Melkweg club nightly with my band of Blues Scholars from New Orleans. I had such a good time that I begged High Times to bring me back the next year, and that’s when I fell in with Michael Veling of the 420 Café. He sponsored my visits to the Cannabis Cup for the next three years and convinced me to relocate from New Orleans to Amsterdam after the 16th Cup in 2003, offering me a more or less permanent base of operations at his coffeeshop ever since.

So I’ve been on hand for the past 16 Cannabis Cups in Amsterdam, long before the legalization of medical marijuana in America and the establishment of what are now several Medical Cannabis Cups in the U.S., plus full-scale Cannabis Cups celebrating legalized marijuana in the states of Colorado, Washington and Oregon. They even have a Medical Cannabis Cup in Clio, Michigan that has caused quite a bit of excitement for smokers in the Flint area for the past two years.

But there’s no more Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, the home of its origin. The International Cannabis Cup was moved to Jamaica this year, where weed has finally found official acceptance, and was held in conjunction with the local ganja community as “Rastafari Rootzfest” last month at a space, the magazine says, “just a few yards from Negril’s gorgeous Seven Mile Beach where warm sunshine and spliffs ruled the day.”

High Times reports that “several thousand” persons attended the “Rastafari Rootzfest” last month, certainly netting the sponsors a tidy sum in admission (or “judges”) fees. And the money-making aspects of the original Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam have been shifted to the ever-growing number of medical and recreational Cups in the U.S.A., where the costs don’t involve shipping a staff of people across the ocean every November and dealing with the transportation arrangements of 1200 or more so-called “judges” in a foreign country each fall.

So it’s very interesting to be in the coffeeshops of Amsterdam this week in the absence of the Cannabis Cup and the hundreds of eager marijuana tourists it has brought from the U.S.A. and around the world every Thanksgiving week for the past 27 years. Business in the shops doesn’t seem to be suffering per se, but it’s quite a different vibe from that generated by the smokers on a mission who’ve been attracted by the High Times event every year since I’ve been coming here.

But now it seems to be back to normal, which is pretty hip to begin with, and several local coffeeshops have banded together to initiate their own festivities this year under the name of the Amsterdam Unity Cup, held at the Melkweg the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I attended the Tuesday event last night but there wasn’t anything happening at all except for a deejay in the Oude Zaal playing a lot of corny records at high volume to an audience of none.

My friend William, long-time cannabis manager at the 420 Café and its Dutch Flowers annex, explained that the group of coffeeshop people were taking an exploratory approach this year to see if they could make it happen in the absence of the traditional organizers, the High Times collective from New York City.

If all went well logistically, William surmised, the local cofffeeshop veterans would make a better publicized effort next year at this time to deliver on their promise to “bring you the people’s choice of the finest strains from the best coffee shops Amsterdam has to offer” while claiming that “he traditional dates have been taken over for the new annual Cup event in & aromund Amsterdam.” You can get more information at amsterdam-unity-cup.com.

The evacuation of Amsterdam by High Times represents an ugly victory for the city and the federal government in their lengthening campaign to shrink the cannabis business community in the Netherlands and try to shed the image of the world’s hot spot for drug tourism in the hope of attracting the more lucrative family-oriented tourist trade enjoyed by most western destinations.

Unlike the western United States, where the newly legalized cannabis industry is beginning a concerted effort to introduce normal Americans to the pleasures and benefits if marijuana in an effort to increase sales, the Dutch authorities want to drive the cannabis tourists away and shun their voluminous business which is said to amount to 25% of all tourism dollars spent here.

The present government seems to feel that the Netherlands have suffered for more than 40 years under the stigma of being the number one destination for marijuana smokers all over the world. The unique Dutch tolerance of the marijuana smoker as a full citizen is regarded with scorn and apprehension by virtually every western nation save Spain and Portugal. The highly civilized approach to marijuana smoking adopted by the Dutch hasn’t even begun to penetrate the thick skulls of the American authorities, who remain loath to allow smoking the sacrament on the premises where it may be traded.

I’ve related these facts before in this space, but the Dutch system allows the purchase and consumption of cannabis products on the premises of specialized cafes called coffeeshops, which are allowed to stock 500 grams of marijuana and hashish for sale over the counter. Consumers may purchase up to 5 grams of cannabis in a coffeeshop and take it with them—as in a Michigan dispensary—or enjoy the great local custom of taking a seat, sipping a coffee or juice drink, rolling up joints and smoking them alone or with friends, reveling in the companionship of fellow smokers in a warm and relaxed atmosphere.

This system has worked without fail for the marijuana smoker in the Netherlands since 1972 or so. Free-style marijuana coffeeshops were established and proliferated throughout Amsterdam without restraint (numbering 750 at the highest point) until the government decided the cannabis explosion had gone too far without the guiding hand of the authorities and began the process of registering and regulating the coffeeshpp industry about 20 years ago.

They’ve tightened things up considerably ever since, as I’ve reported in this column, until now there are probably les than 200 coffeeshops in Amsterdam itself. Tourists have been barred from frequenting coffeeshops and buying weed in quite a few smaller towns along the eastern border, and there’s even been an attempt to force Dutch smokers to register with the government.

When I left Detroit last month they were talking a lot of crazy shit about registering and regulating the 150 to 200 marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up in the city. What they need to do is convert the dispensaries to coffeeshops where people may gather peacefully and enjoy their weed and each other in peace. The City should enable as many shops to operate as possible, establish a modest licensing fee and tax the sales of products in the shops.

Otherwise, let us alone and let us have our smoke. FREE THE WEED!

—Amsterdam

November 23-24, 2015

© 2015 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.