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What is a coffee shop and why is it called that?

What is a coffee shop and why is it called that?

In any country, ask for directions to the nearest coffee shop and you will be directed to a cafe serving hot drinks. But in the Netherlands you will be directed to a completely different place - to a store where you can buy weed or hashish!



The Dutch capital has over 160 "wonders" and while you can certainly enjoy a cappuccino in many of them, that is not their primary purpose! Here we look at the history of coffeeshops in the Netherlands and answer the question that every tourist has on their lips - why are coffee shops called coffeeshops?

History of cannabis in the Netherlands

In the 17th century, cannabis was widely smoked in the Netherlands. Marijuana smoking can even be seen in Golden Age paintings by artists such as Brouwer. In the 1600s, cannabis smokers (who usually mixed weed with tobacco and smoked from stone pipes) were called "toe drinkers". It remained a popular pastime until it was banned by the Pope, who threatened to excommunicate anyone who broke the rules. The Dutch authorities followed suit, threatening to punish anyone found smoking marijuana by cutting off their nose or even hanging them! Fast forward a few centuries and marijuana smoking returned to its former levels of popularity, as did much of the West, with the advent of hippie culture and the Roaring Sixties.

 

So why are they called coffeeshop?
The very first coffee shop (sadly closed in 2017) was Mellow Yellow. This coffee shop on the grounds of an old bakery was filled with vendors disguised as regulars to drink coffee. Since 1972, this and many other coffee houses began to covertly sell hashish and marijuana. The nature of the business may have changed, but the name stuck!

The authorities in Amsterdam unsuccessfully tried to stop the illegal sale of cannabis, but, having failed, decided to implement a policy of "tolerance" - gedoogbeleid in Dutch (try saying that after one too much dose!). Mellow Yellow received its first license, and many more followed. As long as these coffee shops were happy to abide by the strict rules set by the government, they were free to sell weed (despite the fact that it was technically illegal, which continues today).

Is cannabis legal in Amsterdam?
It's complicated, but the short answer is no. It's just tolerable. But don't worry, you won't get arrested for smoking marijuana in the Netherlands, and as long as you're under 5g you're not doing anything wrong, so enjoy!

  • What is a coffee shop and why is it called that?

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