Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

December 14, 2009, 10:36
Filed under: Amsterdam

There are all sorts of walking tours of Amsterdam; introductory, alternative, red light district, Jordaan etc. I took the graffiti tour in my first week here. I took the Cannabis tour last week with Amsterdam City Tours. Its website promises to explain:

Various aspects of this plant, from its medicinal use all the way to its recreational consumption and of course drug consumption related politics. We will visit the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum to learn more about this controversial plant.

Sean, the 40-year-old American tour leader, knows Amsterdam and his way around a coffee shop menu, having lived here on and off for more than a dozen years.  He teaches art history part-time and leads various tours for several companies in his spare time.

The bonus was Sean’s intimate knowledge of so many other aspects of Dutch living; he took us to a Jenever (gin) tasting room, Wynand Focking, as well a boutique brewery tucked away in the heart of the red light district.

I was interested to find out where coffee shop owners acquire their product: “Don’t ask,” was Sean’s advice, explaining it’s a topic that’s just never addressed, suggesting there is a lot of trafficking (and not all of it legal) needed to supply Amsterdam’s 230 plus coffee shops. You see, each shop can only stock 500 grams in total. But it can stock at least 20 or more cannabis strains. So if customers are allowed 5 grams maximum, some of the more popular shops in busy areas – in order to merely maintain a workable inventory – would need to stock way more than their 500 gram legal daily quota. Again, authorities prefer to turn a blind eye to this glaring, but pragmatic, hypocrisy

As they do the laws on personal cultivation. You’re allowed five plants at home, but not grown hydroponically; it must be propagated ‘au natural’. This would make it just about impossible to raise a crop in winter with its limited daylight and much lower sun in the southern sky. Naturally, there’s a thriving business in hydroponic equipment and technology, “for growing vegetables and cooking herbs”, of course!

The tour takes you to the more famous coffee shops (Bulldog and Dampkring), their customers being primarily tourists. But the real revelation was visiting coffee shops deep in the suburbs, far from the madding crowds, including Paradox and Sanementering, both hidden away in the backstreets of Jordaan.

Sanementering is special, says Sean. It started out decades ago as a second-hand store selling general domestic bric-a-brac. It still does, as you can see in the photo. It then introduced cannabis ‘on the quiet’ as a side line, dispensed from a tiny ‘bar’ in the back of the shop. It still does.

One other thing I learned was that some licensed coffee shops opted to do away with selling product and just allow customers to ‘smoke’ on the premises. A change in the law a few years back, according to Sean, banned cannabis coffee shops from also selling alcohol: they were only allowed to stock soft beverages (plus tea and coffee). In response, some bars elected to do away with selling cannabis altogether, but still retain their liquor licence. This enabled customers to ‘smoke’ on the premises (with gear bought elsewhere) while also allowing them to ‘drink’ alcohol. The irony is that cigarette smokers in these same ‘cannabis’ bars have to go outside for their nicotine hit, due to EU laws banning smoking indoors.

The tour ended at Grey Area, an infamous coffee shop on the western edge of the city near Herengracht that has won the Cannabis Cup on numerous occasions. Its reputation is well deserved, says Sean. Grey Area sources premium product (don’t ask from where or how!), and its customers are prepared to pay premium prices for their industrial strength high. Staff will even hand-roll your joints to order. Now that’s the kind of service this city could do with a lot more of.


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Yeah, sanementering is a great place. By far the coziest coffeeshop I’ve been to.
I already miss the place even though I left Amsterdam just yesterday.

Comment by Bjarke

ik ben er nog nooit geweest in die coffeeshop. Het heeft ook spullen te koop en is ooit als bric a brac winkel begonnen dat van alles te koop had.

Comment by tityhuisman

sanementenring was vroeger een winkeltje dat van alles wat te koop had. Heel gezellig om er rond te snuffelen of er iets van je gading bij zit.

Comment by tityhuisman

het is de moeite waard, van binnen is het wel gezellig intiem en knus. Er komen veel toeristen naar toe. En die komen er zeker voor terug of adviseren het bekenden om daar ook eens een kijkje te komen nemen

Comment by tityhuisman

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