Amsterdam coffee shops – The smoking ban and other changes

Now that things have sorted themselves out a bit a few months after the July 1, 2008 smoking ban has taken affect, I thought I’d discuss some of the changes that law has brought about, as well as other general trends in the scene overall. I know there are many folks preparing to come for the High Times Cannabis Cup over Thanksgiving, and the news is mostly good. Amsterdam coffee shops are mostly continuing almost exactly as before, but after visiting about 30 different shops all over the city in the past few days I’m going to have to update the main Amsterdam coffee shops FAQ in a few small ways.

Cannabis has gone up in price by quite a bit, sort of

It’s not clear exactly why this has happened, but coffeeshop employees say that the wholesale price of cannabis has gone up, so of course the retail price at the shops has gone up too. Only 3 years ago one gram of hash or grass could be had for between €5 and €8, and now prices run from about €6 to €15 and even higher.

Mostly new strains are at the top end

The new high-priced weed is “ultra premium” in quality, and most of previous top strains haven’t gone up in price too dramatically. For example, White Widow used to be one of the most popular powerful strains of grass, and it is still around €8 at many places, but the new strains like Cheese, Amnesia Haze, LA Confidential, or New York Diesel can be up to €20 per gram. So if you want a good quality strain of grass or hash then you can still get it for under €10 per gram, but new, better, and more expensive options are also available.

Prices between shops vary more

Again, as of a few years ago most places would charge between €5 and €8 per gram for every kind of hash or weed, but now the prices are spread out quite a bit more. With the new premium strains mixed in this has become more confusing so if you care at all about not being ripped off you might have to try a few shops before you buy. There have always been a few shops (especially in the Red Light District area that has so many ‘weekend warrior’ visitors) that insist on a minimum of 2 grams or a set money amount that means having to buy more than one gram at a time, and now things have spread out even more. Unless you have a good reason for doing so, it’s good to buy one gram at a time (which allows you to try more different strains too), and you can get great stuff for around €10 per gram or less. If you walk into a shop that charges more or insists on a higher minimum, then try another place. We don’t want to reward these high-minimum places by just giving in to their scheme.

A few shops are ignoring the smoking ban

Amsterdam finally enacted its ban on smoking tobacco in public areas on July 1, 2008, and the city resembles so many others in that cigarette smokers huddle out front of bars and clubs to light get their fix. Now bars, restaurants, clubs, and hotels are all “smoke free” but a few of them are looking the other way. I won’t list any places, but a few I visited are treating the new law like a suggestion that doesn’t really work for their businesses. It appears that enforcement has been spotty and/or relaxed, so these places seem to be hoping their gamble won’t be met with the increasing fines that have been promised for violators. One bar I visited charged a €2 extra fee if you want to smoke cannabis in there, but they wouldn’t allow tobacco. I heard of another bar that allows smoking of tobacco or weed, and they ask for a donation of some kind that goes toward a fine fund. If smoking tobacco while drinking is something you really want to do, finding a place to do it is possible, especially in the Red Light District area.

An herbal tobacco substitute is available and not popular

Since virtually all Europeans have traditionally mixed tobacco with their hash or weed, and this is no longer legal in shops that don’t have designated smoking areas, many places now have a free bowl of this herbal mix that is meant to work just as tobacco did in the rolling process. But very few smokers seem to have warmed up to the new stuff, so the mix doesn’t get much use at this point.

Many shops have installed glassed-in rooms

One way the coffee shops could comply with the new smoking ban is by enclosing in glass part of the shop that doesn’t have employees working in it. Many places have done just this, with the most popular design being a long and skinny shop that has the front third open with the coffee bar and cannabis bar being in that area, and then the rear two-thirds of the shop being behind glass. Before this law took effect it sounded like this would really ruin the vibe of many shops, but in reality the new glassed-in areas are pretty cool and not something to avoid.

Space cakes are all over the place now

Space cakes, which is the common Amsterdam code name for pot brownies and such, used to be only found in about a third of the shops, almost all of which could be found in the Red Light District area, but now it seems nearly every shop has them, although the prices vary wildly.

Prices on space cakes are all over the map

The increased availability of space cakes means finding them is a snap now, but you really have to pay attention to the price. Prices of space cakes continue to be in the €4 to €5 range at many places, but in some places they can be up to €10 each. Again, if you care at all about not being ripped off, you should know that finding a good one for around €5 is still very possible if you look around a bit.

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