Last update: July 2014

Amsterdam coffeeshops

1) What is a coffeeshop?

Coffeeshops are alcohol-free establishments where soft drugs are sold and consumed. A driving principle of coffeeshop policy is that the sale of alcohol and the sale of soft drugs is separated. The underlying idea behind this includes the fact that, from an enforcement perspective, the size of the segment of economic activity requiring supervision is reduced, as is the size of the audience being confronted with (soft) drugs. The stock of soft drugs held on the premises may not exceed 500 grammes.

2) Are (international) tourists allowed to enter coffeeshops? 

Yes, everyone aged 18 and above is currently allowed to enter coffeeshops and purchase cannabis in Amsterdam. Tourists can continue to visit coffeeshops in Amsterdam, also after 1 January 2013. This decision by Mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan is based on the latest coalition accord presented by the new Cabinet in October 2012, which states that local authorities are responsible for maintaining regulations impacting its citizens.

3) Are coffeeshops also permitted to sell hard drugs?

No. Coffeeshops that become involved with hard drugs, allow activities involving hard drugs to take place or act negligently will irrevocably have their tolerance declaration withdrawn. Soft and hard drugs are hardly ever mixed in coffeeshops.

4) How much cannabis may be sold/purchased in a coffeeshop?

Selling large quantities of cannabis to coffeeshop customers is prohibited. Individuals are permitted to purchase a maximum of 5 grammes a day.

5) How old do you have to be to enter a coffeeshop?

18 years old. Selling cannabis to those under 18 years old is prohibited, as is allowing those under 18 years of age to enter the coffeeshop. If city officials observe the presence of anyone under 18 years old in a coffeeshop, the establishment will be subject to sanctions.

6) What percentage of tourists visit a coffeeshop during their stay in Amsterdam?

Research conducted by the City of Amsterdam indicates that 35% of tourists who come to Amsterdam also visit a coffeeshop during their stay.

7) Is it illegal to purchase cannabis on the street?

Yes, people aged 18 and above are only permitted to purchase cannabis in coffeeshops.

8) Is it permitted to smoke cannabis outside (in public places)?

Yes, those aged 18 and above are permitted to smoke cannabis outside as long as doing so does not create nuisance to others. On 1 July 2013, it became illegal to smoke cannabis at children’s playgrounds and on 1 September 2013, it also became an offence to smoke cannabis on the grounds of secondary schools. Earlier regulations outlined these restrictions for students, but this new law now means that the constraint also applies to people not studying at the institutions.

9) Is it permitted to smoke cannabis at home?

Yes, people aged 18 and above are permitted to smoke cannabis in their home.

10) What are the distance requirements?

The current Cabinet’s governance agreement outlines the option of introducing minimum distance requirements between coffeeshops and secondary schools, as part of local measures. Amsterdam adopted the distance criteria as of 1 January 2014 and as such, will introduce the phased closure of 26 coffeeshops that are located within 250 metres of a school. These coffeeshops will have their tolerance declaration withdrawn. A total of 8 coffeeshops closed on 1 July 2014 as they were visible from school grounds.

See also this press release on the introduction of distance requirements 

11) How many coffeeshops are there in Amsterdam?

In early July 2014, there were 183 coffeeshops in Amsterdam. In light of the introduction of the distance criteria, the expectation is that this number will decrease to 155 coffeeshops in 2016.

Cannabis

1) What are soft drugs?

The Netherlands Opium Act differentiates between hard drugs and soft drugs. Soft drugs are those which the Dutch government have designated as carrying an acceptable risk. Soft drugs include hash, marihuana, sleep-inducing drugs and sedatives.

2) What is the tolerance policy with regard to soft drugs in the Netherlands?

Cannabis is less harmful to a user’s health than hard drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine, but it remains an illegal substance. This means that the trade in as well as the sale, production and possession of this drug is punishable by law. A tolerance policy is active in the Netherlands which means the possession and sale of soft drugs is recognised as a violation of the law, but isn’t prosecuted.

By tolerating the regulated sale of soft drugs within clearly-defined boundaries and severely punishing the sale of hard drugs, the two markets are separated. The sale of cannabis in coffeeshops is an apt example of this, with the underlying idea being that a cannabis user therefore will not need to buy their soft drugs from an illegally-operating dealer who could easily introduce them to hard drugs.

3) How old do you have to be to smoke cannabis in the Netherlands?

A minimum of 18 years old.

4) Where is it permitted to purchase cannabis?

The purchase of cannabis is only permitted at locations with a declaration of tolerance (coffeeshops).

5) Is it permitted to smoke cannabis outside (in public places)?

Yes. However, smoking cannabis at children’s playgrounds and on the grounds of secondary schools is an offence.

6) Is it permitted to smoke cannabis in locations other than coffeeshops?

The most common and accepted place to smoke cannabis is in a coffeeshop. Although it is uncommon, the owner of a pub, bar or café may permit the use of cannabis in their establishment. Those aged 18 and above are permitted to smoke cannabis outside and at home. Smoking cannabis outside (in public places) is only permitted as long as doing so does not create nuisance to others.

7) What are the effects of the use of cannabis on a user's health?

Cannabis products (hash and marihuana) are not heavily addictive and have relatively little negative effect on a user’s health. The risk of becoming dependent does clearly increase in cases of long term and frequent use. The following are known effects that (excessive) cannabis use can have on a user’s health:

- It has been proven that using cannabis reduces reaction times and the ability to concentrate and that it can adversely affect short term memory. Cannabis use can therefore have a negative effect on performance at college, work and while driving. Heavy users absorb information more slowly and have more difficulty effectively completing tasks that require high levels of concentration.

- Using solely cannabis slightly increases the risk of traffic accidents. Combining cannabis with alcohol increases the risk of accidents substantially.

- Smoking cannabis releases numerous carcinogenic substances into the body, which are harmful for the user’s lungs. THC (the active chemical compound in cannabis) is not harmful in this way, it is the  by-products released when smoking cannabis that are harmful. Cannabis is also often smoked differently to tobacco: users inhale deeply, breathe in more smoke and keep the smoke in their lungs for longer.

- Heavy cannabis use during pregnancy can be harmful to the development of the foetus.

- Cognitive performance can be negatively affected by long term, intensive cannabis use. This will usually improve after cannabis use stops, in a period of between a few days up to several weeks.

- There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence to support the claim that using cannabis can induce psychotic symptoms, particularly in the case of heavy users and those predisposed to mental health conditions. The risk of such conditions increases in line with the severity of cannabis use. Research into the relationship between cannabis use and the development of other mental health conditions (such as depression) is yet to provide definitive conclusions.

- The critical toxicity of cannabis is extremely low. The CBC health organisation has not recorded a single fatality resulting directly from using cannabis in the last 20 years.