Denver mayor Michael Hancock isn't the likeliest marijuana tourist. Recall that he ripped Amendment 64. Nonetheless, he and other Denver city officials will visit Amsterdam next week in part to learn more about the city's approach to weed.
Apparently, Hancock and company haven't heard of this little thing called the Internet. But we're to help. Here are the top five things Hancock can expect to learn during his trip, largely culled from the official websites for Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
The Dutch differentiate between "hard" drugs and "soft" drugs
Contrary to popular belief, drugs of all sorts remain illegal in the Netherlands, and according to the country's drugs policy page, "those found selling, producing, dealing or in possession of these drugs are liable to prosecution." However, the page's author opines that "soft drugs, such as marijuana and hash, are less damaging to health than hard drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine." As such, assorted substances are treated differently under what's popularly known as the Opium Act, as seen in this summary:
• Schedule I lists the substances classified as hard drugs, for example heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy and GHB.
• Schedule II lists the substances classified as soft drugs: cannabis products (hash and marijuana) and sleeping pills and sedatives such as Valium and Seresta. According to the government, these drugs carry less serious risks than the hard drugs listed in Schedule I.
Coffee shops sell a lot more than coffee
Yes, there are Starbucks in Amsterdam. But the city is known for a different type of coffee shop. Here's the IAmAmsterdam description:
Coffeeshops are alcohol-free establishments where soft drugs are sold and consumed. A driving principle of coffeeshop policy is that the sale of alcohol and the sale of soft drugs is separated. The underlying idea behind this includes the fact that, from an enforcement perspective, the size of the segment of economic activity requiring supervision is reduced, as is the size of the audience being confronted with (soft) drugs. The stock of soft drugs held on the premises may not exceed 500 grammes.
How are such sales possible, given that soft drugs are illegal? The Netherlands' drug page points out the country boasts "a policy of toleration.... The sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is a criminal offence but the Public Prosecution Service does not prosecute coffee shops for this offence.
"Neither does the Public Prosecution Service prosecute members of the public for possession of small quantities of soft drugs," the page continues.
The approved quantities:
• no more than 5 grams of cannabis (marijuana or hash)
• no more than 5 cannabis plants
Not all Dutch coffee shops are tourist-friendly -- but the ones in Amsterdam are In some parts of the Netherlands, tourist aren't allowed to purchase marijuana in coffee shops. This restriction demonstrates that some communities aren't all that gung-ho about pot tourism. Yet Amsterdam remains very firmly committed to letting non-residents get their smoke on. Here's a synopsis of the history from an IAmAmsterdam FAQ:
Everyone aged 18 and above is currently allowed to enter coffeeshops and purchase cannabis in Amsterdam. Tourists can continue to visit coffeeshops in Amsterdam, also after 1 January 2013. This decision by Mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan is based on the latest coalition accord presented by the new Cabinet in October 2012. The outgoing Cabinet (2010-2012) had proposed that only Dutch members would be allowed access to coffeeshops. Users would have to register to receive a coffeeshop membership card. This membership pass, already initiated in the south of the Netherlands, is now off the table.
The Dutch are worried about selling marijuana near schools, too
Throughout much of 2012, the U.S. Attorneys Office in Colorado sent closure letters to dispensaries deemed too close to schools -- and most local and state laws set up distance requirements, with 1,000 feet being the standard.
That's happening in the Netherlands, too. As noted by the aforementioned FAQ, "The current cabinet's governance agreement proposes the introduction of a minimum distance requirement of 250 metres between coffeeshops and secondary schools. A calculation shows that a minimum distance requirement of 350 metres between coffeeshops and secondary schools in Amsterdam would mean that more than half (116) of the 223 coffeeshops would have to close."
The current administration in Amsterdam opposes such action, explaining:
The City of Amsterdam believes that there are more effective measures available to combat soft drug usage among young people. Annual measurements indicate that young people rarely frequent coffeeshops, partly due to the strict monitoring system that is in place. Preventative measures, such as providing information about the health risks linked to using soft drugs and involving parents and schools, are more effective in preventing young people from using soft drugs.
Nonetheless, 28 coffee shops near Amsterdam schools are reportedly being phased out over the course of this year in an apparent effort to put off the national government's desire for more sweeping closures.
Pot smoking isn't restricted to the great indoors -- and you don't have to be 21 to do it
For at least a year, Mayor Hancock has publicly opposed the concept of pot clubs. However, his governmental counterparts in Amsterdam have come to a very different conclusion. Obviously, a great deal of cannabis consumption takes place in the coffee shops, and other settings are okay, too, as detailed in the follow Q&A section:
Q: Is it permitted to smoke cannabis outside (in public places)?
Q: Is it permitted to smoke cannabis in locations other than coffeeshops?
A: In a coffeeshop is the most common and accepted place to smoke cannabis. Although it us uncommon, the owner of a pub, bar or café may permit the use of cannabis in their establishment.
And how old must one be to participate? Eighteen.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Marijuana archive circa October 2012: "Marijuana: Michael Hancock rips Amendment 64, campaign responds (update)."