Maybe I’m aging myself but saying this but I remember a time when the Netherlands was the undisputed world champion of marijuana weed and hash. Thanks to the extremely liberal attitude to almost every social subject, the Netherlands – most notably its capital, Amsterdam – was the undisputed global ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’ leader. Coffeeshops started opening in the 1970s and developing the world’s greatest strains followed shortly after. While the Netherlands still produces top-notch, world-class weed which continually makes it to top ranking on a range of international weed competitions, weed in the ‘LowLands’ is nothing like what it used to be.
I’m probably aging myself when I say that I remember the time when Amsterdam was the undisputed king of weed: a city that – along with many other vices – had legal cannabis and ‘soft drugs’ (magic mushrooms and even peyote!) and with a vibrant nightlife was the end-all-be-all of weed smokers for decades. And while cannabis is still legal in the Netherlands (‘shrooms and peyote got the ax about 12 years ago) and the Netherlands still win international weed awards, the everyday day coffeeshop’s inventory is nowhere near the quality it was in past – and it’s nowhere close to the outstanding quality of Colorado weed!
Dutch weed: a brief history
The Dutch have always been known for their tolerant attitude about, well almost everything. And since 1975 when the Netherlands took cannabis off the list of ‘hard drugs’, this also included weed. In the mid-70s cannabis retail stores known as coffeeshops began popping up all over the country, with the ones in Amsterdam getting international notoriety. The Dutch soon became the best weed cultivators in the world and not only were winning the top international weed awards, the Netherlands was the only host for the prestigious High Time Awards for many years. All the while, the rest of the world – including the US – still stigmatized smoking pot and it was still illegal. But there was a strange paradox with the Dutch’s attitude towards weed: it was – and still is – illegal to grow it, transport and distribute it but it’s ‘not illegal’ to retail sell and smoke it. So, in a nutshell, the Dutch didn’t have a problem with folks smoking pot for fun. And because it was OK to use recreationally, the Dutch seem to have missed the boat on the medical side of weed. There is a very small movement to change this, but the long-held ‘soft drug’ tolerance of the Netherlands has almost stumped the wider use and benefits of marijuana.
The US’s attitude about marijuana
Interestingly enough, the more conservative of the two countries – the US – has had a much different approach to marijuana. The US, pioneered by Colorado (whoo hoo!) has led with the medicinal benefits of cannabis which as in turn, given it a much broader acceptance with the general society. This has not only paved the way for acceptance of recreational use, but also opened the doors wide for perfecting the cultivation of marijuana plants and the creation of marijuana products. Marijuana in the US is viewed (for the most part) as a plant with a wide variety of health benefits that can treat, relieve and help people. Conversely in the Netherlands these days, marijuana is viewed (for the most part) as a soft drug that stoners, hippies, international folks and tourist smoke.
My, how times have changed. Since marijuana isn’t viewed the same way in the Netherlands, the quality of the weed you get at the everyday coffeeshop is not the best quality – not by Dutch standards of yester-year and definitely not by Colorado standards. The Dutch just don’t seem to have the same focus on growing and providing weed to those who partake. And whereas dispensaries in the US are almost their own retail niche, in the Netherlands coffeeshops are still viewed more like bars: where people go to kick back, relax and indulge a bit in their vice.
Colorado: the new undisputed weed leader
With the Netherlands still focused mainly on the recreational side of marijuana, they also haven’t really taken a look at what the US – particularly Colorado – is doing with the whole realm of ‘marijuana’. Of course there are and have always been top-notch weed connoisseurs here (and there are presumably everywhere), but generally speaking, most Dutch don’t know about the major strides states like Colorado have taken in the medical side of the weed. Since opening the first dispensary to the medical public, Colorado has become the very best of the best in growing weed and making weed-related products. Even in the US, I’ve heard folks say, ‘California dispensaries are amazing but nothing compares to Colorado!’
Also beyond the cultivating, Colorado has become a textbook example of how to introduce medical, then recreational week to its citizens. It’s been a huge success story for the weed business in general and the positive impact legalized weed has on society, the economy, tourism, tax revenue and the health benefits. Looking back, it seems that going ‘med’ first then ‘rec’ has more longevity than having a 45-year-plus tolerant attitude on weed.
For states like Colorado, the future will only be bright for marijuana. It’s only a matter of time before the federal government legalizes and/or decriminalizes marijuana, and this will set the stage for further and expanded research into the astounding benefits of weed. But for the Netherlands, it seems that the coffeeshops are just ‘holding on’. Though there is a small movement to change the attitude towards marijuana, especially through the lens of health and wellness, it’s not loud enough to be making any serious headway. Throw in a global pandemic and any ‘umph’ for major change in the soft drug policy in the Netherlands has just had its thunder stolen.
For the Netherlands it’s unlikely the coffeeshops will ever go away permanently. The Dutch love their traditions and don’t give them up easily. Even if smoking pot isn’t something most Dutch do, they still see the coffeeshops as something ‘traditionally Dutch’ and don’t want to get rid of them completely. Still, it would be great to see the Dutch follow the lead from states like Colorado and realize the medical side of weed and how it can be of tremendous benefit to their fellow Dutch – and Europeans. Then maybe it would be easier and cheaper to get serious ‘top shelf’ weed!