us drug policy

It’s 420, we all know what that means.

Most people are aware that the attitude towards recreational drug use in the Netherlands is rather liberal and that there are numerous drug paraphernalia shops and cafes… but what is the Dutch drug policy and what does it entail?

I’ll break it down.

There are four main objectives that the Dutch drug policy has, which include:

1. To prevent recreational drug use and to treat and rehabilitate recreational drug users.
2. To reduce harm to users.
3. To diminish public nuisance by drug users (the disturbance of public order and safety in the neighbourhood).
4. To combat the production and trafficking of recreational drugs.

Rather than restricting access to recreational drugs, as with most other countries, the Dutch approach recreational drug use by creating a safe environment in which a drug user may administer a drug.

Now, this is done in a few different ways.

Cannabis and coffeeshops

In the Netherlands, sellling marijuana (also known as cannabis, weed, pot, wacky backy and many other names) is described as “illegal, but not punishable”. That’s right, it’s actually illegal.

Anyone who has been to Amsterdam will have seen the word COFFEESHOP emblazoned across an establishment, sometimes in neon lighting, and others a bit more toned down and inconspicuous. The law is not enforced in these coffeeshops as long as they follow specific nationwide rules, including:

  • No advertising
  • No hard drug sales on the premises
  • No sales to anyone under the age of 18
  • No sale of quantities greater than five grams
  • No public disturbances

The idea of licensing the sale of cannabis in this way was introduced in the 1970s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated, and to also prevent the unsafe vending of cannabis on the streets. This creates a safe environment where the public can enjoy cannabis without risk from an untrustworthy source. Coffeeshops often sell all of the other things you may find in a normal cafe or bar, including milkshakes, soft drinks and desserts. Something you won’t find in an establishment that sells cannabis products is alcohol. This law was passed in order to moderate the consumption of cannabis and alcohol together.

Each municipality has its own coffeeshop policy; 105 of the 443 municipalities have at least one coffeeshop. In 2009, a law was first introduced in the areas controlled by the more strict Protestant parties and those that border with Germany and Belgium, and then became nationwide in 2012. This law bans foreign tourists from entering any coffeeshops in the Netherlands. Additionally, a “weed-pass” or wietpas membership has been offered for Dutch residents to enable the coffeeshops to distinguish residents from tourists. Protests against this law are still in action.

For those of you hoping to try some of the green stuff (or even just wish to observe this attraction from afar) whilst visiting the capital… don’t worry! This law is not enforced in Amsterdam as the mayor of Amsterdam and the coffeeshop owners rejected this idea. So much so, that the Dutch government agreed to allow Amsterdam to continue as it is. Dus, this will not affect any tourists visiting the capital city at present!

Smart shops & Head shops

I’ll start with the lingo, because the both of them are rather similar and both terms often get swapped and used for the other. Wikipedia says that the difference is:

Smart shop = a shop that sells psychoactive substances, usually including psychedelics, and drug paraphernalia
Head shop = a shop that specialises in paraphernalia used for consumption of cannabis and tobacco, and items related to cannabis culture and related countercultures

Both shops sometimes overlap, selling psychoactive substances and cannabis culture items. Also, many smart/head shops also sell clothing, novelty items (souvenir-type items, like mugs or little trinkets) and even sex toys!

You can find many smart/head shops around the Netherlands (the most in the entirety of Europe, in fact!), with many situated in Amsterdam; as expected. The psychoactive substances that can be sold over the counter include natural products such as Salvia and Psilocybin (magic mushrooms). In recent years, the Netherlands have brought in stricter rules regarding the sale of magic mushrooms. At present, you can purchase magic mushroom spores or truffles from these smart/head shops. The sale of the mushrooms themselves is against the law.

There are no laws regarding the sale of drug paraphernalia in the Netherlands, even those that are to be used with illegal drugs. This aligns with the consensus of ensuring that recreational drug users are able to administer their drug in a safe manner and with the correct equipment, rather than relying on makeshift items that could cause the user additional harm and encourage the possible spread of diseases.

Clean rooms/Drug consumption rooms

For the past few decades, supervised drug consumption rooms have been in action across Europe - the Netherlands included!

By “supervised drug consumption”, this refers to illicit drug users attending this facility when they wish to administer their dose under the supervision of a healthcare professional. These facilities primarily aim to reduce the acute risks of disease transmission through unhygienic injecting, prevent drug-related overdose deaths and connect high-risk drug users with addiction treatment and other health and social services.

The UK have a similar idea by which pharmacies offer a service called the needle exchange, which encourages injecting drug users to swap used needles with fresh ones. The drug administration is not supervised however, which does not always ensure that a drug user is using safe equipment.

Dus daar heb je het!

A bit of a low-down to how recreational drug use is approached in the Netherlands!

I remember my first ever visit to Amsterdam, over four years ago. I remember seeing the beautiful buildings, going on the canal tour and even visiting Anne Frank’s house. But I also remember seeing all of the coffeeshops and smart/head shops and being rather surprised! But then I was impressed. I think this approach to recreational drug use has enabled the country to be open and educated about the risks that recreational drug use can bring and how to be smart about it. The statistics surrounding drug crime in the Netherlands is very low, so something must be working!


“If you fall and break something, I’m not dragging your ass back to the cabin.” - Andrew at some point probably

(pic taken from outside my friend’s cabin)</p>

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