A Tourist’s Remarks on Amsterdam's Cannabis Market

Connor Skelly

The cannabis environment in Amsterdam is not what your casual tourist would expect. I took my first-ever trip there to visit family and analyzed the city’s “coffeeshops" and observed advertisements for CBD capsules in a couple Holland & Barrett locations (CBD is basically "tolerated" in the country as structured policies are developed). As for cannabis, there are relatively strict regulations, leading to limited distribution and few branded products, if any. From the conversations I had with fellow tourists, it appeared that their cannabis education and awareness was limited while awareness of Amsterdam’s regulation landscape was nonexistent.

Cannabis in Amsterdam is decriminalized. The market is particularly peculiar because sales are allowed through licensed coffeeshops. However, there is no legal way for the shops to acquire their supply. The shops instead must rely on an unregulated network of black market producers to supply their shops. This has led to limited menus including pre-roll joints, vacuum-sealed grams, hash, and the infamous space cakes. From what I experienced, most accepted card transactions, while a few were cash-only. The coffeeshops I visited typically had 5-8 pre-roll options and about 10 hash and flower options, much fewer than I expected. The law permits me to use these products within the confines of the coffeeshop or take them away for private, at-home use. While the likelihood of getting in trouble for public, outdoor use is low, law enforcement has the right to serve a ticket. Residents could even get arrested if plants are discovered in their homes.

The city is undergoing a small rebrand of sorts in order to remove some of the connotations of cannabis and heavy partying. For example, the city has placed a licensing limit on the number of boats that can travel along the river and canals on the country’s historic celebration of King’s Day. In the past, one could walk along the river, boat by boat, alongside people dressed in all orange, the color of the nation’s royal family. While cannabis was not being sold on these boats, there was an abundance of alcohol and laughing gas - a commercially legal product. I imagine in time Amsterdam, and Netherlands as a whole, will tread lightly with the expansion of their cannabis presence in order to maintain the integrity of their incredible city.