Drugs and the Netherlands – What you need to know as a foreigner coming to the Netherlands

CLICK HERE to subscribe to my Youtube channel

The Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, has the image of being a country where anything is possible and people do whatever they want: smoking weed, visiting the red light district, drinking Heineken beer.

But is this true?

Amsterdam – Capital of the Netherlands (and of drugs?)

For some people who have never been to the Netherlands, this image might be something that comes to mind. Or you might have seen it in (bad) comedies about Amsterdam like ‘EuroTrip’ or ‘Deuce Bigelow’.

But fortunately this image is not true. It wouldn’t be a very productive society … Also, it’s in movies like this that they say Holland is the capital of Amsterdam …

So what’s the real story? I will tell you all about it.

Let’s start with the image of Amsterdam as the capital for weed.

Amsterdam and weed is a popular combination     

Amsterdam is really popular with tourists all over the world. And yes, the image of it being a city where you can smoke weed helps.

There are many ‘coffee shops’ in Amsterdam, although the number has decreased in the last few years. In 1993 there were more than 400 coffee shops. This dropped to 283 in 2000, and currently there are around 150 coffee shops left.

These coffee shops are a very big attraction for tourists. Some research has shown that without coffee shops, about half the tourists wouldn’t go to Amsterdam. (1)

The people of Amsterdam aren’t really happy about tourists who are only interested in the coffee shops and the red light district. Furthermore, Amsterdam is considering whether it’s possible to make the coffee shops and prostitution less accessible.

Looking at these numbers, there’s a chance that if you are planning to go Amsterdam or the Netherlands generally, you will want to check out the coffee shops.

What are the things you should know about weed in the Netherlands?

Rules about weed in the Netherlands

An important Dutch word about weed policy and the Netherlands is: gedogen. (tolerate)

Officially it is forbidden to grow, sell, buy and use soft drugs. But the Dutch, being pragmatic, see that it’s impossible to be that strict, so they ‘tolerate’ some of it.

Or as the Dutch say: We zien het door de vingers (We see it through the fingers; we turn a blind eye).

Weed and Amsterdam (the Netherlands): What is allowed?

Coffee shops can sell weed and hash under strict conditions. Also, the Public Prosecutor does not prosecute people if they possess small quantities of soft drugs, a maximum of 5 grams of cannabis (weed, hash).

And growing it in your own house is tolerated if you keep it to a maximum of 5 hemp plants.

The strange part of this law is that coffee shops cannot say where their weed comes from because they get it in way larger quantities than 5 plants.

Because of this strange and illegal part of the supply chainan experimental programme is to be trialled. The experiment, closed coffeeshop chain, should clarify whether legal supply, purchase and sale of cannabis is possible. The quality of this cannabis is also checked.

Weed and Amsterdam (the Netherlands): What is not allowed?

So, again, it’s good to know that weed is not actually legal. This means that if the police want to, they can take it away from you.

And don’t forget: if you carry more than 5 grams, you can be arrested or receive a fine of €75. Anyone in possession of more than 30 grams is committing a crime, which can lead to a maximum of two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of €16,750.

It’s also not allowed to smoke weed in public. In the past the police were more liberal than they are today. So you are only allowed to smoke in a coffee shop or in domestic circles.

Buying weed as a foreigner in the Netherlands

With all these coffee shops and liberal laws it’s really easy to buy weed in Amsterdam. You only have to be above 18 years of age.

Please note: It’s not like this in other cities in the Netherlands!

It’s good to know that other cities have a different policy. In some coffee shops you have to be a Dutch citizen.

Important: If you come as a foreigner check out the rules of these shops in other cities!

You might think that with this liberal policy the Dutch would be stoned all the time. This in fact is not true.

The Dutch don’t smoke that much weed

The fact that it is easy to access, actually leads to cannabis use in the Netherlands being lower than in other countries.

The Dutch occupy a middle position when it comes to how much they smoke compared to other European countries. In France and Italy they smoke marijuana more than in the Netherlands. In Scandinavia, they smoke the least weed in Europe.

So the Dutch cannabis users smoke less, but they are also less extreme compared to other European countries. When the Dutch smoke, they don’t smoke huge quantities and, also, they often put tobacco in their joints. Other typical Dutch customs when it comes to smoking weed is that they don’t buy too much weed at once and often share their joint with others. (Study by the Trimbos Institute.)

Other drugs in the Netherlands

Of course there’s not only weed in the Netherlands. There are other drugs that play an important role in the Netherlands.

In some research (The EMCDDA’s EU Drug Markets Report), the Netherlands was portrayed as the number one producer, processor and importer of drugs to their European neighbours.

For example, between 25 and 50 percent of all cocaine destined for Europe enters the continent via the port of Rotterdam.

MDMA / Ecstasy

Not only with cocaine are the Dutch number one. The Netherlands is also ‘king’ as far as the production of MDMA is concerned. There is so much MDMA produced in the Netherlands, that these pills go all over the world.

830,000 Dutch people (out of 17 million) have used ecstasy at least once in their lives, and in percentage terms (8%) the Netherlands is the leader.

(1) (https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/zonder-coffeeshop-zou-bijna-helft-toeristen-amsterdam-vaker-mijden~a017e767/)

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School