Amsterdam drug laws

We’ve all heard or made the joke about moving to Amsterdam and lighting up a joint. It’s safe to say that the Dutch capital has a different approach to its English counterpart. While Brits tend to be pretty strict on any drug use, in Amsterdam they’re loose when it comes to weed. But how loose? And what about other drugs? Before taking a pilgrimage for pot, we suggest you read this.

A group of young people are sitting on a sofa. They are discussing Amsterdam drug laws. This is a wide-angle image.

The history of Amsterdam drug laws  

In 1976, the Netherlands decriminalised possession of soft drugs such as cannabis. To keep up with the demand, outlets quickly popped up around the country, specifically in the capital, Amsterdam. These businesses are known as ‘coffee shops’, but most people aren’t hanging around a caffeine fix. It’s Mary Jane that keeps the so-called drug tourists coming back. Well, that and the red-light district. 

So am I free to get stoned under  Amsterdam drug laws? 

According to the Dutch government, selling cannabis is still an offence in Holland, while dealing in the streets is illegal. Even so, possession of less than 30 grams for personal use is just a misdemeanour. Coffee shops’ can only sell small quantities of weed, specifically up to five grams per person. The catch is, you have to be 18 or over.

What drugs are legal in Amsterdam?

Coffee houses don’t take kindly to punters who come in looking for something other than weed. Why? Because drug policy in the Netherlands makes a broad distinction between hard and soft drugs. Their tolerance towards soft drugs such as cannabis is actually an effort to counter the trade in illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, and maintain addiction recovery programmes. 

This means that no legitimate coffee shop will supply or even stock anything other than dope, so don’t ask. That said, there are smart shops which sell substitutes to hard drugs, such as magic truffles instead of magic mushrooms.  There’s more info on smart shops here.

What’s the procedure when I walk into a coffee shop? 

The law prevents coffee shops from advertising the sale and availability of cannabis in Dutch cities, which can make things a little confusing. As a Brit, you will look either a) shifty and out of your depth or b) hideously overconfident if you try asking straight out.

Look for a ‘marijuana menu’ instead, often in booklet form, and then take your pick. Just don’t be tempted to go for the strongest stuff if you’ve never tried it before. Amsterdam weed has a reputation for being way stronger than the British stuff and you could wind up out of sorts. If in doubt, ask the staff. They’ll be happy to help.

What’s the deal with duty free drugs? 

There is no deal. Attempting to smuggle drugs out of Holland is a criminal offence, no matter how insignificant the amount. Doesn’t matter what drugs are legal in Amsterdam. It’s no good arguing that you were bringing some home as a ‘keepsake’ either, law enforcement (from both countries) will be up your arse.

To read more about drugs on holiday, click here.

Next Steps

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 16-Aug-2021