About the coffee shops…well, they can certainly be a fun part of the experience. You cannot buy alcohol in the same place that you buy marijuana or hash. And, in general, you cannot smoke marijuana in a bar (but you can sure smoke cigarettes, ugh). The idea, I assume, is to protect all the holiday smokers from a nasty combination (and the other patrons from the stupid behavior of f*ed up weekend warriors). Folks – you just don’t want to go smoke an entire joint after drinking beer all night – you won’t have a good experience. But most of the shops we saw in the red light district generally had stupidly stoned tourists slumped in chairs. I won’t judge but its seems to me that experiencing your holiday half-asleep inside a bar is not the way to go. Yet we western tourists do it all the time (an not just in Amsterdam – on many of our holiday trips). On a related note, the Netherlands outlawed the sale of “magic mushrooms” while I was there (Oct 31 was the last day to buy in Smart Shops) – sadly one too many tourist jumped naked into a canal.
Anyway, the neighborhood coffee shops were very low-key, with people stopping in for a bit and socializing, then moving on. I was told – although I have no facts – that only 4% of Dutch-born residents actually use marijuana. It is true that people in coffee shops seemed to be tourists and expat-types, although I suspect a lot of residents just take it home. I found the whole thing to be very civilized and clearly the way to go. In the Netherlands, perfectly respectable and responsible adults can purchase small amounts of a soft drug for personal use. It’s monitored, it’s regulated, it’s taxed. I won’t dwell on this but our government is wasting our money by including soft drugs in the (losing) war on drugs.