If you've ever been to Amsterdam, you know it stands out from other world capitals. Having lived there over five years, I have vivid memories of a charming city rich in culture and history -- but also of a conflicted city on an ongoing quest to "find itself." Historic old churches in the middle of the world's most (in)famous red light district; world class museums housing priceless treasures, coexisting with buildings almost effaced by graffiti.
Since July 1, Amsterdam finds itself again facing a unique set of questions. In compliance with the EU's initiatives to ban smoking in public places, the Netherlands was one of the last to lay down the law. Not surprising when you know that the traditional coffee shop can just as easily be called a smoking parlor. But in Amsterdam, it's a little more complicated: for years, many of the city's notorious coffee shops have also offered hashish on their menus. It's technically illegal, but smokers are not prosecuted for possession under 5 grams. Around 750 Dutch cafés — half of them in Amsterdam — are licensed to have up to 500 grams in stock at any one time. The problem Dutch smokers now face is that most of the marijuana they smoke is in fat, cone-shaped joints that contain a blend of cannabis and tobacco. With the new law now in force, the hash will have to be pure.
Shops are scrambling to adapt. One alternative is "vaporizer" machines, which incinerate weed smokelessly. Another is to replace tobacco with herbs like coltsfoot, a common plant that looks like a dandelion and that smokers describe as tasting a bit like oregano. But most shops are just planning to increase their sales of hash brownies and pure weed — and are hoping the law isn't enforced.
What a predicament. I guess every small business has its challenges...
Thanks to my friend Celeste Yohai for the observation!