The news that the state of Colorado legalized the sale of marijuana in 2012 as a result of over half of the voter turnout ushering the law into the books attracted a great of deal of attention in the media in the Netherlands. It’s as if the Dutch could happily point out to the world, “See, how right and groovy we are? We’re being copied!” Yes, marijuana is a big deal to the pride of the Dutch.
Having moved to the Netherlands more than twenty years ago, I have often encountered guests who were keenly interested in the “coffee shops,” the establishments where it’s possible to buy weed legally. I find it ironic that the people who are most engaged in copiously smoking dope at home travel halfway around the world to do exactly what they might do at behind the school building, perhaps illegally, and spend their vacation in a state of stupor.
You have probably guessed by the last sentence that even though legal marijuana is around to be purchased the corner from me, I do not partake. However upon their request, I took the last crew of guests who stayed at my house for a week around the corner to a coffee shop. (The Dutch spell this as one word, by the way.) They were not impressed by the place. I could tell this by the look on their faces as they surveyed the spit brown walls and cheap plastic furniture. We were the only ones in the grimy room. This was obviously not the bastion of glory to weed my visitors had expected, doubtless having seen glamorous photographs of purple and silver exotic interiors, shots taken inside the more trendy Amsterdam pot scene. This was Gouda, a bit of a Dutch backwater city.
The grand occasion, and reason why we were specifically that day in that shop, was that the son of my former employee, a pastor no less, was turning eighteen. The son, his high school buddy known by two initials, and his father all gazed at the blackboard hanging over the head of the proprietor of the coffee shop. There were three items listed. The pastor coughed, “Uh, what’s the difference?” he asked. The proprietor looked wearily at us and, from under the high counter top pulled out three large plastic buckets. The buckets were transparent so the contents were quite visible. None of the guys could decide which item to buy so they simply purchased samples of all three products. Literally, marijuana is a big deal. It then became my duty to guide them for the following days around on sightseeing trips. I’m not so sure how much they can remember of these occasions.
Recently the Dutch government attempted to introduce a “wietpas” or “weed card.” This item was thought up because of the problems posed by tourists from nearby countries crossing the border to buy marijuana. The problems caused by weed tourists included antisocial behaviour and of course the selling of illegal goods to a foreigner who routinely smuggled it into their country adjacent to the Netherlands raised objections in the neighbouring countries. The proposed “wietpas” was only attainable if you were a Dutch citizen, here you can imagine that all sorts of economic gain was to be won by the future illegal “wietpas” business, and the “wietpas” was mainly aimed at the pot trade in Dutch cities and towns bordering on other countries. In other words, Amsterdam was free to keep their coffee shops hospitably open to all customers. The “wietpas” never made it. The idea was abandoned because it was too expensive and too unhandy.
In Colorado the justification for legalizing marijuana was just that, controlling the illegal sales and use of marijuana required a solid budget. It’s better to legalize the use, tax the product to be sold in specific locations and there you have it, marijuana is a big deal. Now, perhaps when citizens of Colorado plan a vacation to the Netherlands, they won’t have to smoke quite so much dope. “Uh guys,” I said watching my guests and their hand luggage roll out my front door at 7 a.m. heading towards the municipal park, away from the direction of the train station, “It’s the other way.”
By Persephone Abbott