Dutch coffee shop owners relaxed over smoking ban
Tuesday, 01 July 2008
When a smoking ban comes into force in the Netherlands on Wednesday
(NZT), it may kill the buzz for people who like to smoke their cannabis
with tobacco. But some owners of the famous Dutch coffee shops are
Fittingly, in a land renowned for its relaxed attitude to drug laws, the
new rules contain a few loopholes.
People will still be able to smoke pure cannabis joints in around 700
coffee shops, something some tourists -- notably from the United States
-- already often do.
Also, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops will be allowed to set up a
separate room or glass partition behind which people can smoke. But
customers will not be served in these areas to protect staff.
This dispensation makes the Dutch law more relaxed than smoking
restrictions in some other European countries where smoking is banned
completely in bars, restaurants and other public spaces.
Arjam Roskam, who owns the Green House coffee shop in Amsterdam, is not
His marijuana strains have won 31 Cannabis Cup prizes over the years and
he counts Hollywood celebrities, members of Europe's royal families,
lawyers, judges and police officers among his clients.
"The English, Americans and Japanese are our biggest customers. Already
for a very, very long time they don't smoke tobacco because tobacco is
the number one killer on this planet," he said. "We don't mind the
Many smokers mix marijuana with tobacco but it can also be smoked on its
own in joints, pipes, vaporisers and other devices, or eaten in cakes
Under the new law, cutting cannabis with tobacco could land coffee shop
owners with a fine of up to 2,400 euros.
Soft drugs are officially banned in the Netherlands but under a policy
of tolerance, buyers are allowed to have less than 5 grams of cannabis
in their possession.
Small quantities are sold in coffee shops, making the usually small and
cosy venues big attractions for tourists.
Despite Roskam's comments, for some of these visitors, a joint is not a
joint without tobacco.
"We come (to Amsterdam) just for the coffee shops, three to five times a
year," said Briton Barry Johnson, who was lounging in the Green House
coffee shop with a friend.
"I don't smoke pure marijuana as it is too strong for me, it makes me
sleepy," he said. "I definitely won't come back if mixed joints are not
Michael Veling, spokesman for the Cannabis Retail Association which
represents some 110 coffee shops mainly in Amsterdam and surrounding
areas, did not think the ban would greatly affect his business as most
of his customers bought cannabis to take home.
He said only about two dozen of his members had created separate spaces
for tobacco smokers, adding that he would not: "I don't see the benefits
Western Europe is the world's largest market for cannabis resin and
Europe is the second-largest global market for cocaine, the United
Nations International Narcotics Control Board said in March.
According to the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction,
the number of people using cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy has remained
fairly stable in recent years, with users making up about 3-5 percent of
a population of 16 million.
The Dutch drug-related death rate is low compared with other EU
countries, it said in its 2007 report.
The Dutch health ministry said it did not think the smoking ban would
lead to more drug-related problems by driving more people to smoke
"People can still smoke tobacco mixed with cannabis in coffee shops but
only in a closed area where employees cannot serve them," said ministry
spokeswoman Saskia Hommes.
"Maybe the smokers have to travel a bit more to find a coffee shop with
a closed area," she said.
The watchdog Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority says it has a
squad of about 200 inspectors ready to enforce the ban.
"They are trained for the job," says spokesman Bob Kiel, adding
inspectors will be able to tell the difference between a mixed or pure
joint from its smell and appearance.