From the outside, Amsterdam seems to be the land of “anything goes,” and sure — you can do a lot here that you can’t do elsewhere. But guess what? We’ve got rules here just like the rest of the world. Crazy, right?! So let’s run down what activities actually get the green light, the turn-a-blind-eye orange light, and the straight-up illegal red light.
Legal, of course. The drinking age for beer and wine used to be 16, but as of 2015 it’s 18 across the board. It’s not legal to sell alcohol anywhere cannabis is sold, but some alcohol purveyors are 420 friendly, especially on the terrace.
P.S. Alcohol consumption outdoors is for terraces and parks only. Walking around with open containers on a non-festival day can land you with a €50 fine.
Cannabis is illegal. Seriously, it always has been. It actually falls in this murky gray area the Dutch call “Tolerance” — for weed, this dates back from 1976. Basically, cops will look the other way for up to 5g per person or plants per household, as long as you’re not selling it. They’ll also kinda, mostly look the other way for coffeeshops, but there’s no legal way to supply them. Growers, even small scale, have been raided with increasing frequency, scaring away some of the smaller, quality-focused operations. Plus a bunch of coffeeshops (almost half) have been shut down for various reasons — leaving a “mere” 200 in the city. Enter Amsterdam’s first cannabis social club: Tree of Life. It’s locals only, but members get higher-quality bud for cheaper… and a new circle of stoner friends. The government says this model isn’t legal, but so far they’ve been “tolerated.”
The good news? That locals-only weed pass you heard about does NOT apply in Amsterdam. Tourists are still welcome in the remaining coffeeshops. Hash oil, by the way, is classified as a hard drug and thus totally NOT legal. Hash (including some seriously strong varieties) is still on the menu, though.
Note for tourists: any hemp, hemp seed, or hemp oil products you buy outside a coffeeshop contain no THC and are legal to bring home!
Once another beneficiary of the Tolerance policy, prostitution has been legal since 2000. (Note: this doesn’t include street walking.) After centuries of shifting laws and regulations (they tried every model out there), the idea behind legalization was that it would make it a hell of a lot easier to keep the women (and some men not in the windows) safer, and make it easier to prevent trafficking. Prostitutes must be registered with the local chamber of commerce and pay taxes, and in turn they are protected by the same labor laws as everyone else. And the police.
Just don’t take pictures of them.
In 2008, the Netherlands imposed restrictions on smoking tobacco in public places. Some bars openly flout this, risking fines to keep their regulars happy. In general, though, it’s not allowed. Coffeeshops got a special exemption for cannabis only — so no smoking tobacco-mixed joints inside. The coffeeshop provides an herbal substitute in jars around the shop. (The many hookah bars around town also seem to have an exemption.)
Magic mushrooms, sold in smartshops, have been illegal since 2008. But many smartshops basically ignore this. Those that don’t instead sell magic truffles, a close cousin with much the same effect.
Also legally sold in smartshops: peyote and other psychedelic cacti.
Stop and search
Sorry Pulp Fiction fans, things have changed since the Vincent Vega rant on Holland that opens the 1994 film: since 2003 stop and searches have been legal. But, honestly, when it happens, they’re looking for guns. And though we’ve seen some rough arrests of unruly people, we’ve never seen a random stop and search.
Much to the shock/concern of people from other places, no helmet is required when riding a bicycle in Holland. Obeying traffic rules is, though, which means riding with a bell plus lights at night. Expect fines if you’re caught without or running a red light any time of day. Cars, however, are way more careful around bikes here than in other places because, if anything goes down, the car will always get the blame (and the bill).
Nope. That was the whole point of the soft-drug policy.
That being said, policies on this have softened over the decades, with addicts being treated as ill rather than criminal, particularly heroin addicts. It is also legal to get ecstasy (which is indeed produced by and large in Holland) tested for pollutants, anonymously, at clinics across the country, and possession of up to five pills is tolerated (only in Amsterdam, mind you. For the rest of the country, it’s one pill only).
Photo credit: Amsterdam Today