Are Amsterdam Coffeeshops a Serious Health Hazard?

An Overview

Amsterdam Coffeeshops
The Bulldog – Amsterdam’s First Coffeeshop

Amsterdam Coffeeshops

Dutch official policy, since the late 20th century, has been to openly tolerate all recreational use of Cannabis and three other drugs under certain circumstances.

Policy of Toleration

It surprised me to learn that many a tourist, visiting the glorious city of Amsterdam, is generally convinced that the sale and use of Cannabis in the Netherlands are legal. Regrettably, to date, the Dutch government has not legalized the use of hashish and marihuana. Instead, they maintain a policy of toleration. The so-called coffeeshops in the Netherlands are the regular venues for the public sale of Cannabis products.

This policy is partly a pragmatic one. Lawmakers’ reasoning behind it is to effectively control a situation that seems to be unsolvable. This reasoning is put forward as an alternative to criminalizing the use and sale of soft drugs aggressively. The Court of Appeal of The Hague ruled that their policy of toleration serves a legitimate interest, that of fighting organized crime and the containment of nuisance.

Recreational use, possession, and trade of non-medicinal drugs, as described in the Opium Law, are all technically illegal under Dutch law.

Legal Cannabis Countries

In the US, there are now several states where Cannabis is legal, but Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalize weed. Israel allows marihuana for medical use. And recently, Canada followed suit with complete freedom for medical and recreational use.

Weed has recently become legal in Canada. The growing of the plant, its sales, and its use is no longer punishable by law. Within one day, the weed stores ran out of stock. Good news for Canada, but weren’t the Dutch once the world leader in terms of Cannabis?

The Netherlands adhered to this policy for many years and Cannabis may be sold under strict conditions. That was extremely progressive 30 years ago, but it is no longer the case. Since 2004, policy in Belgium is moving more in the direction of the Dutch model, and some German legislators are urging to experiment based on the Dutch model. After long parliamentary debates in 2004, Switzerland rejected the proposal to follow the Dutch model.

Regulation of Hard- and Soft-drugs

The Dutch Drug Policy Foundation issued a petition in 2011 to force better regulation for the increasing difficulties concerning drug legislation in general. They sustain that drug criminality represents more than half of the total cases in the Netherlands and that present legislation is a fiasco. The foundation aims to regulate, primarily, the four most widely used drugs: Cannabis, XTC, Amphetamine, and Cocaine.

Despite the astronomical cost to law enforcement, drugs are generally available, and their use is increasing rather than decreasing. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 35 million people worldwide suffer from drug use disorders, while only one in seven receive treatment. Contrary to popular perception, in the Netherlands, criminal law is the only thing that currently regulates the most widely used drugs.

No Quality Control

Over the past century, many countries, but especially the United States, have waged war against forbidden, mind-altering substances. Unfortunately, those prohibitions were not based on harmfulness. Scientific research shows that legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than many illegal drugs. As a result, the policy is, in many cases, countless times more damaging than the drugs themselves.

There has been a time when heroin, cocaine, opium, and cannabis were legally available and used both as medicine and for recreation. Historically, the Netherlands had significant interests in opium and cocaine production and trade.

It would probably not be desirable to go back to that type of free market, but it is crucial to realize that these publicly available resources did not lead to large-scale disruption at the time.


The risk of drug abuse increased many times by what was called “Prohibition” in the US: the ban on certain drugs. It shows the mechanism of how the market was given to criminals, how it stigmatizes users, and how it makes society less secure than a system with meaningful, strict regulation.


Directive: Allow under Regulation

Current policy – which prohibits drugs – does not consistently achieve its objectives. It makes society more dangerous instead of safer. Society needs regulation to minimize the risks associated with drugs.

Those who have a user disorder should get help. For them, an illegal market is not a solution to the problems. To reduce damaging use, regulated control, and educating ‘use in moderation’ is better than stigma.

Hazardous Chemicals and Insecticides

Unlike Israel, the Dutch government does not regulate or check the use of hazardous chemicals and insecticides in the production of high-grade marihuana for recreational use, broadly available in coffeeshops. As a result, it seems that Amsterdam coffeeshops present a serious health hazard.

Legal but Not Commercial

People should have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Nevertheless, the promotion of resources by commercial companies can present an obvious danger. The keyword to consider in progressive legislation is, therefore, Non-commercial.


  1. World Drug Report – United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  2. A Guide to the Drug-Legalization Movement
  3. Drug Policy of the Netherlands


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