Amsterdam coffeeshops FAQ – The basics

This is part of an Amsterdam Coffeeshops FAQ series

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The basics

If you are considering your first trip to Amsterdam and you are one of the billion or so earthlings who are interested in the subject of marijuana, you may have discovered that information on exactly how everything works in Amsterdam coffeeshops is hard to come by.

It’s easy to find brief and unhelpful information that discusses Amsterdam coffeeshops in a paragraph or two, and it’s also not hard finding websites where marijuana nerds dissect each other’s theories about smoking this or that. So if you have yet to visit an Amsterdam coffeeshop, the whole thing can be a little mysterious or intimidating. If you are brand new to the fun and endlessly rewarding activity of smoking weed and so forth, you might be interested in this well-written tutorial on how to smoke weed.

This guide will try to answer all your questions so when you arrive in Amsterdam you’ll already know what you are doing without having to feel embarrassed or out of place.

Is cannabis legal in the Netherlands?

Not exactly, but for the purposes of the casual visitor it is. I could go on for pages about the complex and contradictory laws and customs involving cannabis in the Netherlands, but the important thing to know is the country is very welcoming of tourists who want to try out smoking in the coffeeshops (almost always written as one word). It’s an important part of their tourism crowd and cannabis-related problems are very rare, especially compared to alcohol-related problems in the country or elsewhere.

People aged 18+ can buy up to 5 grams per day in a licensed coffeeshop, and legally smoke it in any coffeeshop. If you aren’t familiar with the weights and measures of marijuana or hash, 5 grams is a LOT, and certainly more than any normal person could smoke in a few days, much less a single day.

So marijuana and hash are different things?

CannabisYes, but not by much. Marijuana (weed, pot, dope, grass, ganja, 420) consists of dried flowers or buds from the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plants. Marijuana in Amsterdam is usually green and fluffy.

Hash (hashish) is a concentrated resin that is extracted from those same plants by a variety of methods. Hash comes in brownish blocks that have a clay-like consistency.

The high is similar, although hash tends to taste minty while marijuana tastes like, um, grass. One gram of marijuana looks much bigger than one gram of hash, but their potency for getting you high is about the same.

What is an Amsterdam coffeeshop?

The Doors coffeeshopIt’s important to make a distinction here between an Amsterdam “coffeeshop” and a coffee shop or café nearly anywhere else. In Amsterdam (and throughout the Netherlands) a coffeeshop can legally (for all intents and purposes, see above) sell marijuana and hashish to anyone 18+, and smoking inside the coffeeshop is basically legal as well. Some places even have outdoor seating and smoking there is fine, but after that things change and that subject is covered elsewhere in this guide.

These coffeeshops exist for the purpose of selling cannabis in a friendly way. It’s not like anyone can just rent a storefront, plug in a coffee machine, and be a ‘coffeeshop.’ They are all licensed, and actually they’ve stopped handing out new licenses so the number of coffeeshops in the country has been decreasing lately, but there are still around 150 in Amsterdam alone, so there is no need to worry.

Every coffeeshop has some kind of theme or unique vibe. Many are decorated with Rasta stuff, and some play reggae while others play pop music or just about anything else you can think of. Each place is quite different. Some have comfortable sofas for lounging inside, and others have cheap tables and chairs. Everyone seems to have their own favorite place, and part of the fun of a visit is trying different places instead of just going to the one you’ve heard was good.

Is it easy to confuse a “coffeeshop” with a non-weed coffee shop of café?

Amsterdam cafeNo, 99% of the time you’ll know right away which is which, even on your first visit. In addition to coffeeshops, Amsterdam is also loaded with cafés. Many, particularly the ones in or near the main squares, are the grand café style with wicker furniture out front. These don’t sell cannabis, nor will they let you smoke in or near them.

Amsterdam also has what are known as brown cafés, which are basically the equivalent of local pubs. They tend to be on corners and most are outside the main tourist area, since most of their business is from locals. They serve alcohol and mediocre bar food, if you are interested in that.

All cannabis coffeeshops will have a green and white flag sticker on the front somewhere that says “coffee shop” and most also have Rasta colors or other imagery that removes any doubt.

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