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Crossroads: Grown In The Netherlands

Jul 14, 2017 07:51AM ● Published by Ricardo Baca

I’m navigating my wife and I into the city center on our rented bicycles, crisscrossing scenic canals and dodging fresh-meat tourists, when I see a familiar business name ahead of me.

I stop in front of Grey Area Coffeeshop and look back at Melana, who is already carefully eyeing the hoards of tourists trying to jam themselves into the consumption cafe’s premise. A few days earlier a new Dutch friend had told us that Americans seem to flock toward Grey Area, though Melana and I aren’t exactly your typical Americans.

“We have a couple hours before we need to be back,” I tell her. “This looks miserably packed, so maybe we’ll see what the next coffeeshop looks like?”

Melana agrees, and we’re immediately backpedaling. A few minutes later, we happen upon an unremarkable brown awning reading 420 Coffeeshop. It looks like your average crowded-but-not-packed cafe from the outside, a brick building on the corner across from a bakery, and so we lock our bikes up by the canal and head in.

Coming from Free America (aka Colorado), where the government still hasn’t figured out a way to reasonably permit consumption-friendly spaces even though we’ve lived with recreationally legal cannabis since 2012, I’m excited to show my wife Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops. The public consumption of marijuana in social spaces here is nothing new. I remember awkwardly trying hash on my first visit to Holland in 1999, and now, nearly 20 years later, I’m eyeing a laminated menu broken into Grass, Hash, Pre-Rolls, and Space Cakes.

After ordering a coffee, Coke, space cake, and pre-roll, we grab a window seat looking over a small alley and prepare ourselves—with me curiously poking at the dry, bread-like “cake” in front of me and Melana lifting the joint to her nose with an unsure, raised eyebrow.

Admittedly, we’re spoiled by regulated cannabis. But when in Amsterdam ...

While most 420 tourists here still relish the ability to semi-legally buy cannabis in storefronts, the quality of the marijuana sold in many of the coffeeshops has tanked so abruptly that many customers can be heard lamenting their stashes of home-grown back in Australia, Thailand, or Spain.

“Ah, it’s total shit,” a new Austrian friend tells me a few hours later as he passes a coffeeshop-purchased joint to his left-hand side, verbally wishing he could have flown here with his Austrian-grown bud.

Some of our Dutch friends had kindly offered to take us around the canals in their boat for an idyllic evening of wine, weed, sushi, and sightseeing, and the multinational group they’d assembled for the outing seems to agree on one thing:

So much of the weed you’ll buy in Amsterdam these days is total shit.

And there’s a reason for that. In brief, pot isn’t legal here, rather the sale and use of cannabis is tolerated by the government. But because the cultivation of marijuana remains a serious crime in the Netherlands, you can imagine how that complicates the paradoxical supply chain—and makes it difficult for a coffeeshop to secure a consistent line on quality product.

As I ask various Dutch friends if they buy their weed in coffeeshops, I’m universally greeted with chortles, as-ifs, and invitations to see their home garden. Given that I’m here to speak at Cannabis Liberation Day, the largest marijuana event in the Netherlands, I’m meeting weed aficionados from all over the globe, and sure enough, Amsterdam cannabis is everyone’s favorite punching bag.

“It’s barely even recognizable as marijuana,” a guy from Spain tells a group of us.

It’s increasingly clear that as coffeeshops’ products have declined, home-grown marijuana has become king in this historic cannabis capital.

And that’s something that surprises many visitors here—especially those from certain parts of the world where regulated (or semi-regulated) markets are selling quality flower and pot products at medical dispensaries or retail storefronts.

In a way, it seems like Amsterdam cannabis is finding itself again. For decades Amsterdam has been defined by the coffeeshops that seem to cater more to tourists than to locals. But now locals and tourists alike know that the coffeeshops are the last place to find quality green.

When a Dutch friend offered us some of her home-grown after a quick breakfast on Liberation Day itself, we were honored—and relieved that it meant we didn’t have to stop by another coffeeshop. When we shared that joint with friends later, they were of course thankful, but you should have seen their eyes light up when we told them it was home-grown and not from a coffee­shop.

“Drug policy in the Netherlands is moving backwards,” one Dutch friend lamented. “And so is the quality of the cannabis in these coffeeshops.”

Meanwhile back at the 420 Coffeeshop, our joint is lit and our (alleged) space cake is unpackaged. My wife’s allergies are preventing her from giving too discerning a review on the flower’s quality, but I can smell from the smoke that something’s at least a little off. My cake definitely has weed in it, as I would learn about 45 minutes later, but the lackluster quality of the baked good makes it difficult to enjoy.

I notice a man in his 50s approach the counter and order a coffee. He takes a table near us and, as he waits for his order, unrolls a worn leather satchel revealing some bright-green leaf matter and a package of rolling papers. Before his coffee even lands at his table, he’s rolled a joint with expert efficiency, and it’s clear that he, like the rest of us, is here to have a smoke—though he’s not smoking the shop’s marijuana.

And there it is right in front of us: The world’s best-known capital of cannabis is struggling, but the ever-resilient Dutch are still getting by—and they’re still smoking and vaporizing quality (read: home-grown) cannabis while they’re at it.
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