Scratch and sniff cannabis cards distributed by Dutch police

The new government of The Netherlands has been cracking down on marijuana-serving coffee shops lately, and now it’s setting its sights on marijuana cultivation.

Police are distributing 30,000 scratch and sniff cards to homes in Rotterdam and The Hague to help people identify the smell of cannabis. That’s right, many Dutch people apparently don’t know what pot smells like. Just because something’s decriminalized doesn’t mean everyone does it.

While possession of up to five grams of pot and the cultivation of up to five plants is decriminalized, large-scale growing is illegal and authorities consider it a problem. The cops are hoping people will scratch the cards, take a good whiff, and then sniff around near their neighbors’ backyards and narc on them if they turn out to be growing something they shouldn’t be.

The cards also ask citizens to be vigilant in noticing if their neighbors keep their blinds closed, have ventilators running all the time, or use a lot of electricity.

This latest move appears to be attacking coffee shops from another direction. While some localities are closing shops down or making them members-only to keep out the tourists, the authorities recognize that illegal farms (up to 40,000 in the entire country, they estimate) are needed to supply the shops with weed.

[Photo courtesy user Bastique via Wikimedia Commons]

Dutch coffee shops face crackdown

Is it the beginning of the end for Dutch tolerance of weed? The recently elected conservative coalition has promised a number of controversial measures, including curbs on immigration, banning Islamic face covering, and of more interest to travelers, cracking down on legal marijuana smoking.

The Netherlands has been a destination for pot smokers ever since marijuana was made legal in the 1970s. The experiment intended to allow the use of soft drugs like pot while clamping down on hard drugs like heroin. It has had mixed success and as the political pendulum has swung to the right in recent years, more and more curbs have been put on the coffee shops where customers can buy and smoke pot. Magic mushrooms were banned recently, and some towns are restricting coffee shops or even closing them all down. There are currently about 700 coffee shops in The Netherlands, compared with 1,200 at their peak.

Now the coalition government wants to make all coffee shops into private clubs, effectively getting rid of the drug tourists. The question is, will this work? Common sense dictates that where there’s a demand, there will be a supply. Coffee shops might get around the law by offering temporary memberships or international memberships, or allowing members to bring guests. The measure would also not stop illegal sales of drugs. What it will do, however, is reduce the number of people coming to The Netherlands specifically to smoke their vacation away. While some of the bigger and more established coffee shops will no doubt survive, it looks like the industry is in for a bad trip.

[Image courtesy Tyson Williams via Gadling’s flickr pool]


Drug tourists banned from Dutch city

Potheads take note: unless you’re Dutch, you are no longer welcome in Maastricht.

The Dutch city passed a measure to ban foreigners from its coffee shops, where marijuana and hash are legal to buy and consume. Marc Josemans, chairman of the Association of Official Maastricht Coffee Shops, brought suit against the city, saying the ruling violates EU laws guaranteeing free commerce and free movement. An EU court, however, just ruled in favor of the city, citing that drugs are not legal everywhere in the EU so do not count as regular goods.

Owing to its location on the border with Belgium and its proximity to France and Germany, Maastricht is popular with drug tourists, attracting about 4,000 a day. An estimated 70 percent of the customers at the city’s coffee shops are foreigners.

Amsterdam has been cleaning up its act too. It has dramatically decreased its red light district and there has been discussion about making coffee shops members-only establishments so as to discourage drug tourists.

The image is an advertisement distributed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1935. Beware the friendly stranger.

Phoenix TSA fails to detect 20 trips with 20 pounds of pot – failure or fearmongering?

Fox news in Phoenix is covering the story of two men who were running a regular pot transport scheme, delivering pot to Chicago from their home airport. The men had apparently passed through Phoenix Sky Harbor airport over 20 times, each time with almost 20 pounds of pot.

The story focuses on why the TSA failed to detect the pot, and “what else may be getting through?”. Because the men used airline buddy passes, their regular activity failed to show up on any of the automated watch systems, so they were able to book a ticket, and head directly to the airport.

The TSA issued a statement about the incident: “The mission of the TSA is to ensure the safety of the aviation system and intercept dangerous items.

To me, that makes perfect sense – the TSA is not in charge of finding or detecting drugs. If a TSA agent happens to find a stash of marijuana hidden in a bag, I’m sure he or she would call for airport law enforcement, but in my opinion, expecting the TSA to add drugs and other items to their search list is just not possible – they have a hard enough time finding guns and bombs. That said, I can understand them not finding the pot once, or maybe twice – but to fail to notice it over twenty times does seem rather excessive.

What do you think? Is it fair to blame the TSA for not finding 20 pounds of pot taken on a plane over 20 times?


Amsterdam coffee shops – the inside scoop

Amsterdam is an exciting cultural center, full of houseboats and bicycles, trains, museums, a legendary red light district with legal drugs and the one thing which seems to come to many minds first: coffee shops where you can buy and smoke pot.

Cannabis is decriminalized and cheap in Amsterdam, and you can buy seeds at shops like the Sensi Seed Bank all over town. You can also buy a lot of other things (see the gallery for goods like magic mushrooms, herbal opium and liquid coke). That doesn’t mean there are no rules; for one thing, you can’t smoke marijuana in the street — though that’s even less well-enforced that it is in NYC; not very well — and you can’t smoke it in bars, either. There is no alcohol permitted in coffee shops, and no pot where you can buy alcohol. In other words, in Amsterdam, you have to pick your poison.
You also have to be 18 or older to purchase cannabis (prices are in the gallery), and coffee shops are only permitted to sell 5 grams to a person at a time. There is a tobacco ban in Amsterdam, so if you want to smoke regular cigarettes or marijuana blended with tobacco, you must find a shop with a sealed area designated for tobacco smoking.Like in American coffee shops, when you enter a coffee shop in Amsterdam like The Bushdocter Coffeeshop, above, you walk up to the counter to place your order, then take your selections to your seat. You’ll find there is a menu of coffee and tea, but the first thing you’ll be presented with at the counter is their list of marijuana wares. Choices range from bags for take-away to brownies and cakes with strange names and daring ingredients and, of course, pre-rolled joints for smoking at your table, including the infamously strong Ice-o-lator hash.

The coffee shops are smoky. Even if you just sat down for a cup of tea, you’d probably get a little second-hand high. Most shops are brightly, psychedelically colored, if you will, with eclectic art and other features which seem to exist solely for the purpose of starting conversations, trains of thought, and for something to stare at for like half an hour without realizing it. At Bushdocter, there was also a vending machine with chips and candy bars for your munching pleasure.

One thing that’s rare to see is someone sitting alone — the coffee shop is definitely a social place in Amsterdam. If one were going to smoke on his or her own, they’d buy a joint or bag and return home. This is not for tourists, though; most hotels have a strict policy about smoking in the rooms. Be sure and ask before smoking (anything) in your hotel or you could be saddled with a hefty fine.

If you’re heading to Amsterdam and would like to visit a coffee shop, check out this interactive map and reviews and more information here.

This trip was paid for by the Netherlands Board of Tourism, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own. Also, at no point did the NTB escort me into a coffee shop.