Once you come to Amsterdam, heaven for cannabis lovers and those who know how to enjoy life to the maximum, you may be a bit confused by the names of different establishments. Here, you can find coffeeshops, as well as coffee shops, and as if it was not enough, there are also coffee houses and cafés.
Well, in case you are in doubt, you can always just go inside and look around. But if you do not want to look like “a lost tourist,” here are the explanations.
A koffieshop (a Dutch word for coffeeshop) is a place where you will probably not find any coffee but instead may encounter lots of other “stimulating” substances. Most of the products in these establishments are cannabis-related. It is easy to spot these places as all of them have a green and white sign at the entrance and a notice that only people 18+ are allowed to enter. Most of these places have bars inside where you can consume their products (no alcohol or heavy drugs allowed!), so the sweet weed smell will hint on what you should expect to see inside.
All the other variants of the names of establishments, such as koffie huis, koffiebar, koffie spot, koffie hotspot, koffiesalon, or koffietent stand for regular coffee places where you can either buy packed tea and coffee or get a hot cup of beverage, or both. Although they also have a word “koffie” in their names, like koffieshops, they really mean coffee. The brownies they offer you to go with your drink will contain zero cannabis, and the cookies will be just regular cookies (maybe a bit tastier than average).
with the sign “Café” are cafés and restaurants where you can
have a light or proper meal. Moreover, most of them do not have
inside areas for smoking, so if you want to smoke weed and satisfy
your munchies at the same time, you need to look for a
So, how does the Dutch government manage to regulate all these places without letting the whole country turn into one big non-stop cannabis festival?
Back in the 1970s, the situation was totally different. The Dutch government worried about the big problem associated with the high level of heroin addiction among the citizens and the spread of the HIV infection. Apart from this, the drug crime issue was also burning. It was when the idea of providing certain establishments with a license allowing to sell cannabis was born. It had a goal to keep hard and soft drugs separated.
In 1995, the so-called Purple Coalition issued a document named “Dutch Drug Policy Continuity and Change.” It declared that the separation of hard and soft drugs was a good idea and had positive consequences for the public health and the criminal situation in the country. It recognized the instrumental role of coffeeshops in decreasing the number of drug-addicted people: compared to the rest of European countries, the Netherlands had a lower number of young people addicted to hard drugs.
This document also contained the description of the current problem associated with coffeeshops: it could attract the attention of criminal organizations, which could turn the country into “the export nation of cannabis.”
That is why the Purple
Coalition imposed the following restrictions for all
cannabis-friendly establishments that are relevant today.
While the rules on recreational cannabis are strict in the Netherlands, this country was the first one to legalize cannabis consumption for medicinal purposes. Today, you can find cannabis products even in Dutch pharmacies. However, they are available only for the patients who have a physician's prescription.
Today, the majority of Dutch coffeeshops are concentrated in Amsterdam and geared towards tourists. They offer not only cannabis-related products but also drinks and food. Some of them look like lounge bars while others will remind you of clubs: they are crowdy, noisy, and often have loud music playing.
This is why, if you wish to have a nice, high-quality joint, wend your way to a koffieshop, and if you want to have a glass of wine, visit a café. But if you want to mix alcohol and weed, you had better do it at home.